Low Rotorcraft ADS-B Equipage Rate Continues as Shops Fill Up

By S.L. Fuller | February 26, 2018
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Image courtesy of Duncan Aviation

Image courtesy of Duncan Aviation

Citing Aircraft Electronics Association’s market report, Phil Straub, Garmin Aviation’s VP and managing director, was able to report 2017 numbers for the avionics market on behalf of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). He is the group’s chairman. Sales exceeded $2.3 billion — a 2.9% increase from 2016. Retrofit sales were up 20.1%.

It certainly doesn’t hurt the avionics retrofit market that there are some upcoming FAA mandate deadlines. EMS helicopter operators must equip with flight data monitoring technology by April 23. The FAA has not slipped on the Jan. 1, 2020, ADS-B Out deadline. The North Atlantic FANS 1/A datalink deadline is Jan. 31, 2020.


Europe then has its ADS-B deadline June 2020, and a datalink deadline February 2020, GAMA noted.

But the rush to equip doesn’t necessarily mean avionics shops will be raking in exponentially more revenue. Eventually, shops will fill to capacity with no room to grow.

Chad Wiplinger, GAMA’s technical policy committee chair and president of Wipaire Inc., noted that his shop only did a handful of ADS-B installs in 2014 and 2015. But by 2016, that amount tripled. And in 2017, it added two-thirds more. But this year, Wiplinger doesn’t expect any more growth. The company is reaching labor capacity. Even still, the equipage rate is lower than it should be at this point in the timeline.

“On the piston/turbine side of the house, utilitarian side of things, I’m seeing some hesitation. People are slowly starting to go [and equip] but I think it needs to accelerate because they’re going to get caught flat-footed,” Wiplinger said. “I don’t really know why they’re hesitating, but they are. It could be, ‘I don’t want to deal with it today. I’m going to sell the airplane anyway.’ Whatever the reason, we recommend you start going down that path of getting it done.”

About half of the U.S.’s piston and turbine fleets are equipped, he continued. On the business jet side, only 20%. Last is the rotorcraft fleet, of which he said some 10-15% are equipped.

Why the rotorcraft equipage rate is what it is, Staub doesn’t know. So many operations take place in Class B airspace and other areas that require a Mode S transponder and will require ADS-B Out.

“The FAA has really promoted and endorsed paired combinations that are shown to work. You don’t have to have a [supplemental type certificate] on each and every rotorcraft model for them to equip,” Staub said. “I don’t have a lot of insight into why the equipage is higher, but I do know the solutions are there and many of them are operating in areas that will be affected.”

He said he had heard of lead times as long as six months to book an install. Shop hourly rates are increasing. And once an aircraft owner does book some time, Staub addd, he or she is wanting to do “other things they’ve put off for some time.”

“So that’s some of the growth we’re seeing in AEA data with retrofit avionics sales. I think if you haven’t equipped with ADS-B yet, you really need to get that time scheduled and get in there because, again, the FAA has said the mandate is not moving.”

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