By James Brewer
An Avionics Technician & Aviation Enthusiast
I know, I know. You’ve been hearing about ADS-B non stop for the last 5 years or more. I know you’ve heard every single reason to get a system installed; from the benefits to the requirements. I know you’ve heard that at midnight of 2019, your airplane will magically never be able to fly again. You’ve no doubt heard all the regulations and requirements over and over again, as well as the applicable air spaces. I know I have long since reached saturation on the subject some time ago. More importantly, I know what the burden means to you. Really, I do.
I have the opportunity to live a dual life. One half as an avionics technician, and the other with a small partnership on an airplane so I understand the myriad of costs associated with airplanes from both sides. The hanger fees, the maintenance costs, the fuel, tie downs, endless inspections, and of course, that bulb that keeps blowing right before you want to get in the air. Every time you turn around, there’s some other thing you have to comply with. So adding on yet another burden is less than pleasant. Don’t tell anyone else in the industry, but I really disliked ADS-B when it was announced. I saw it as another overbearing requirement to fleece “the rich guys with airplanes.” Especially when you hear comments like “well, it’s only $5000. Be glad you don’t have (insert fancy jet name here) its $100,000 on one of those.” That’s great. But on a $15,000 Cessna 150, $5000 is a big chunk! Or the classic “well if you can afford an airplane, you can afford (insert outrageously priced aviation item here).” I hate that one.
But. I have become a convert and I am singing the praises of ADS-B now. All it took was one flight.
I have a friend who was looking to upgrade his aircraft to be compliant. It just so happens I was attending an ADS-B training session at the same time. Fortunately my boss, Joe Braddock, pulled me aside and told me about the Freeflight RANGR products. He knows I have a tight budget so he presented them to me as an affordable solution. I’m not yet at the point of doing the upgrade myself, (like I said, tight budget) but I did pass the information on to my friend, and for a lot less than he was expecting to pay, he had an ADS-B solution.
Fast forward a few weeks and we go up in his ADS-B (in and out) equipped 172. Wow. It was cool! I really stink at spotting traffic, but having that Ipad displaying the aircraft with their info and velocities right there in front of me, it was like a whole new world opened up. We had WAAS GPS, traffic, and weather! In a 172! For less than 5 grand! With no weight or amperage penalties from a heavy radar. Win-win-win! Plus there were no functional changes in cockpit duties. We still set the transponder when we had to and the ADS-B updated its information accordingly with no input from us. The amount of information and situational awareness we had was amazing for that price. Being a bit of a tech geek, it was a lot of fun to play around with too. I’m glad I was in the right seat!
As we were flying, the technician side of me came out too. The install was a lot faster than we expected, and a lot simpler with digital communication instead of big round bundles of wires and adapter modules. I was pleasantly shocked at the minimal panel real estate that the ADS-B control head took. We were both smiling big on that flight.
On the other hand, I also get to back seat a Super Decathlon from time to time. There is something beautiful about a small bird with minimal distractions and a lack of flashy electronics to take away from actually flying. If that’s you, then I have nothing constructive to offer. Flying like that is a treat in life and on the ADS-B ruling, you’re getting the short end of the stick. The only consolation is that the prices for minimal systems are coming down and there’s still enough competition for your business to keep labor costs reasonable. For now. But as a guy with an inside view of the avionics world, that tipping point is coming soon.
If you have the opportunity to go up in an equipped airplane, by all means do it. Take the right seat and play around. I’m sure you will be very pleasantly surprised and the pain of upgrading will be lessened significantly.
Stay tuned for an informational chart to help guide you to the right system for your needs and budget.