How far do Helicopters Comply With ADS-B Out?

With less than 16 months until the ADS-B Out mandate requires it, what percentage of turbine and piston helicopters are compliant? Mike Chase reports in this JETNET>>Know More feature.

Mike Chase  |  17th August 2018
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    Mike Chase
    Mike Chase

    Michael Chase owns Chase & Associates, an aviation consulting firm specialized in industry product...

    View from the cockpit of a helicopter mid-flight

    With less than 16 months until the ADS-B Out mandate requires it, what percentage of turbine and piston helicopters are compliant? Mike Chase reports in this JETNET>>Know More feature.
    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all aircraft, including helicopters flying in controlled airspace, to be equipped with ADS-B Out technology to modernize the US national airspace system by January 1, 2020. Following are several key questions that we will seek to answer.
    1. Are helicopters required to equip with ADS-B Out too?

    On January 1, 2020, when operating in the airspace designated in 14 CFR § 91.225 (see below) you must be equipped with ADS-B Out avionics that meet the performance requirements of 14 CFR § 91.227. Aircraft not complying with the requirements may be denied access to this airspace.
    If your piston or turbine helicopter operates in the following US airspace, you will need to be ADS-B Out equipped:
    • Class A, B and C airspace.
    • Class E airspace within the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia at and above 10,000ft MSL, excluding the airspace at and below 2,500ft above the surface.
    • Class E airspace at and above 3,000ft MSL over the Gulf of Mexico from the coastline of the US, out to 12nm.
    • Around those airports identified in 14 CFR part 91, Appendix D.
    The ADS-B rules apply to all IFR aircraft, including helicopters flown under the IFR.
    2. Can helicopter operators fly under IFR in non-ADS-B airspace if their aircraft is not equipped with ADS-B Out?

    The requirements of the ADS-B rule apply only to the airspace defined in 14 CFR § 91.225, regardless of whether or not the operation is conducted under VFR or IFR. It's an airspace rule and does not apply to any type of operation outside defined airspace.
    3. If a helicopter operator only flies VFR will they be required to equip with ADS-B Out?

    There are no current mandatory requirements for ADS-B Out in VFR helicopters, although replacement transponders must be Mode S ADS-B capable. Further, any new aircraft is required to have a Mode S Extended Squitter ADS-B capable transponder if it operates in Class A, B, C or E airspace, or above 10,000ft in Class G airspace.
    Nevertheless, many helicopter owners are expected to equip with ADS-B Out for safety and efficiency reasons, including many VFR operators.
    4. What use would ADS-B Out be to the operator of a VFR-Only equipped helicopter?

    ADS-B out is a little like having taillights on your car. They are used by others. In an environment when most aircraft have ADS-B Out, those aircraft with ADS-B In will have the ability to see other aircraft that are nearby.
    An ADS-B In system far exceeds the capabilities of the human eye to detect aircraft and alert a pilot to other aircraft that could be a risk. The availability of surveillance information and flight-following services by ATC for VFR-only equipped aircraft unless operated in controlled airspace, and the availability of accurate information for SAR purposes are significant advantages too.
    Other possible benefits for some VFR operators include: Performance feedback for student training; aircraft tracking (especially in flying clubs and schools for those waiting to use an aircraft); co-ordination of arrival support and ground services such as fuel as vendors use the web to locate in-bound aircraft and are ready to offer a range of services.
    5. How many helicopters are compliant currently?

    Chart A shows the number of turbine and piston helicopters in US operation as of June 2018, per the JETNET Evolution database. The fleet percentages of those that are ADS-B Out compliant are 21% of turbine helicopters and 7% of piston helicopters. Helicopters lag even further behind than business jets currently do.
    6. How does ADS-B Out impact domestic air ambulance?

    According to industry sources, it is estimated that Air Ambulance transports around 400,000 people each year in the US. JETNET reports in June 2018 that there are 1,420 turbine, and four piston helicopters used in US Air Ambulance operations.
    Interestingly, only 38% (540) of the 1,420 turbine Air Ambulance helicopters are ADS-B Out compliant and none of the four piston Air Ambulance helicopters are compliant.
    Air Ambulance operations play a vital role in getting fast help to those in need. The currently low percentages of compliant Air Ambulance helicopters could potentially result in fewer helicopters operating after January 1, 2020 to perform these vital services.
    7. How many ‘For Sale’ helicopters currently comply?

    Currently only 12% of the turbine helicopter fleet and 7% of the piston helicopter fleet ‘For Sale’ are ADS-B compliant. This is a time that buyers of used aircraft should be very careful to check on the ADS-B Out status of an aircraft they’re considering for purchase.
    Table A shows the number of turbine helicopters worldwide that are ADS-B Out compliant, by OEM. There are a 3,023 (14%) of the >22,000 worldwide turbine helicopters in operation that are ADS-B Out compliant. Airbus with 901 of the 5,013 total turbine helicopters leads the pack. Bell ranks second with 634 of 7,731 aircraft compliant.
    Overall, however, these low numbers and percentages should be very concerning to the helicopter industry at this time.
    In Summary

    Many helicopter owners have been slow to react, presumably because they hope the FAA will extend the mandate beyond 2020 or that the price of equipment will fall. The impact of a potential grounding of non-compliant helicopters, however, will be both costly and time-consuming, and bring potential loss of residual value to the owner/operator.

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    Mike Chase

    Mike Chase

    Editor, Aircraft Comparisons

    Michael Chase owns Chase & Associates, an aviation consulting firm specialized in industry product and market research in the Commercial & Business Aviation sectors.

    With over five decades of extensive experience, Michael has worked as a director of special projects for JETNET, LLC; served as Senior Management Consultant for Sabre Holding; and was Director of Market & Sales Research for Gulfstream Aerospace, leading sales and product research, including feasibility and viability studies.



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