NavWorx SAGA: FAA Enforcement To The Max

In the November 2017 issue of Aviation Consumer, we were happy to report that ADS-B manufacturer NavWorx announced a fix for its AD-stricken ADS600-B ADS-B system. The replacement model—the ADS600-B 2.0—was seemingly the upgraded transceiver NavWorx buyers were hoping for. The first-gen systems were essentially useless after the FAA ruled that the internal WAAS GPS module NavWorx used in the transmitter didn’t meet the required TSO spec. As you’ve probably figured out, the November issue of the magazine didn’t even make it off the presses before the company announced it had shut its doors.

Just one week before we went to press, NavWorx President Bill Moffitt spoke reassuring words in a press release to the many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of customers who bought ADS600-B ADS-B transceiver systems. In part, Moffitt said his company made “significant progress with certification of the ADS600-B 2.0,” and said NavWorx had found a viable solution to the long-delayed actions with the FAA. Not so fast, said the FAA. A last strike, the replacement WAAS receiver was also deemed unworthy of meeting the stringent ADS-B position source specs. Not even worthy for experimental aircraft, where an official TSO stamp isn’t required. I suspect the technical proof would be in the paperwork and the FAA obviously didn’t find what it was looking for.

New Navworx

Showing that it’s not fooling around, the FAA in an October 2017 press release of its own proposed a $3.7 million civil penalty against NavWorx for allegedly producing and selling ADS-B units that did not meet the FAA’s ADS-B Out requirements. In the release, the FAA alleged that NavWorx misled its customers about the certification status of these products. The FAA went on to say that NavWorx advertisements omitted and materially misrepresented the essential fact that its units contain a GPS chip that is incapable of meeting the FAA’s standards. “Customers of these products must be able to trust that their equipment meets our safety standards,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. It’s not the first time the FAA flexed its regulatory muscles at a manufacturer. Recall that avionics supplier AmerKing met its demise last year when the FAA determined many of its products were misrepresented as being FAA approved when in fact they were not.

The NavWorx saga has racked up many chapters and it’s one example of why I don’t run news stories in Aviation Consumer, given the time lapse between editing and final production. That’s why we’re trying to make good use of the internet by supplementing our magazine with the obligatory social media presence on Facebook. Aside from posting video productions to chase some of the print articles only subscribers will have access to, we’ll update the Facebook page between monthly issues to keep you posted on industry news like this odd NavWorx story. Still, this story was too important for us not to cover because I know it affected some of our readers who shelled out real money to equip for the ADS-B mandate with a NavWorx solution. You pay us for sorting through these kinds of issues.

There’s a lesson here. To me this story is as much about a relationship with the FAA that went off the rails as it is about the FAA’s zero tolerance for unapproved parts. In November 2016, the FAA issued an emergency order suspending NavWorx’s manufacturing authority to build the affected ADS-B units after the company repeatedly refused (it eventually cooperated) to allow the FAA to inspect its records and manufacturing facilities. From my experience dealing with FAA inspectors on the shop level, neither is a recipe for success.

In the end, this situation hurts both the market and the FAA. Closer yet to the 2020 mandate, the fleet still lags behind in ADS-B equipage. A small operation, NavWorx sold in relatively small numbers, but it also means nearly 1000 more aircraft will need to find an alternative means of equipage. It sure would be easy if another manufacturer stepped up with a replacement product that could drop into the ADS600-B wiring. There is chatter that it could be in the works. I’m watching this closely—and suspect the FAA is, too.

Editor in Chief Larry Anglisano has been a staple at Aviation Consumer since 1995. An active land, sea and glider pilot, Larry has over 30 years’ experience as an avionics repairman and flight test pilot. He’s the editorial director overseeing sister publications Aviation Safety magazine, IFR magazine and is a regular contributor to KITPLANES magazine with his Avionics Bootcamp column.