ADS-B is coming – another acronym to know


Nav Canada recently decided to use a new technology instead of radar to fill a surveillance gap in the Hudson Bay region. With increasing traffic traversing this region of Canada to and from Europe, as well as new polar flights by ultra-long-range aircraft, the procedural method of separating aircraft is beginning to create congestion in this region.

Nav Canada could install four radars to fill the gap but given the remote location and considering several environmental issues, the cost would be quite high. So, Nav Canada has decided to use Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) to fill the gap and they have decided to start down the road to eventually replacing all radars with this cost-effective alternative. Their announcement can be found on our web site at (Nav Can Press Release).

Although ADS-B is cost-effective for Nav Canada, it comes at a high price for aircraft owners, especially now. Aircraft must be equipped with new systems in order to “play” and although many commercial airliners are now at least partially equipped and can most likely absorb the additional costs, for our sector of aviation it is prohibitively expensive.

So, why am I telling you all this? Most of us never fly in the Hudson Bay area and never at the altitudes in which the requirement for equipage will apply, at least not yet.

The reason is, like many other technologies which are introduced, it will have a tendency over time to expand over all of Canada, bringing with it the requirement for us to equip or stay away from affected airspace.

An explanation of ADS-B is in order. The system essentially watches over the skies without having to rely on costly, limited range radars. The term “Automatic” means that there is no action from the pilot, other than to ensure the aircraft system is turned.  “Dependent” means that the system depends on a panel-mounted WAAS-capable GPS to precisely determine where the aircraft is in three-dimensions. “Surveillance” means that  ATC can see the aircraft even in areas where there is no radar coverage, and “Broadcast” means aircraft send coded signals out and are equipped to receive these signals and display the location of other aircraft, thereby providing a means of self-separation, much like (Terminal Collision Avoidance Systems) TCAS now provides for many commercial airliners.

Because of the capability of the airborne system to upload data, side benefits of ADS-B include a capability to upload and display a myriad of information to the cockpit. In addition to traffic information, graphic and text weather can be displayed. And, as was proven in the test program called CAPSTOME in Alaska, ADS-B can track aircraft over vast areas at very low level, thereby serving as an alerting device for downed aircraft; a replacement for ELTs.

However, ADS-B is prohibitively expensive for GA aircraft. In addition, while it would be nice in the perfect world to just throw a switch, for the foreseeable future, there will have to be parallel systems in place, much the same as occurred with the introduction of GPS, which is still supposed to replace all ground-based nav aids.

In the U.S., where ADS-B is taking a front seat as the FAA considers alternatives to replacing their aging radar systems, pilot groups such as AOPA are urging a slow approach to equipage, giving time for the cost issues to sort themselves out through technological advances and time for the fleet to be re-equipped. They are also pushing for free weather data to be supplied by the FAA in order to help offset the equipage cost and to give aircraft owners incentive to switch. They are talking in the order of tens of years for mandatory equipage.

COPA has been active in Canada as Nav Canada wrestled with the decision to adopt ADS-B for the Hudson Bay gap. Now that they have decided to go for it, COPA has lent our support for the concept, with caveats.

In a communication with the Nav Canada President, I said:  “Now that NavCan has committed to developing ADS-B to fill the Hudson Bay gap and announced that it intends to eventually replace radar with this new technology, I would like to reaffirm COPA's support for such a move, but only if it can be made affordable for our sector of aviation.

“As you know, our sister organization in the U.S. has been working with this technology for some time, equipping one of their aircraft with FAA-supplied boxes and gaining experience with the benefits of the technology. I fully endorse their position, which emphasizes affordable avionics, free uploaded data and a long time before mandating equipage as the key ingredients of aircraft owner acceptance.

“I welcome any opportunity to be involved in planning for this technology to maximize its acceptance by our large segment of Canadian aviation.”

Should you be concerned at this point in time if you are about to invest in new avionics for your aircraft? My advice is no. It will be several years before ADS-B advances to the point where our segment will be affected.

However, COPA will remain active in pushing for affordable avionics and incentives, such as free data in recognition that Nav Canada will save millions by adopting this technology. In the meantime, tuck this acronym away for future reference, or use it to impress your friends at a party.