Certain small-plane pilots will be eligible for government rebates to help upgrade to a modern, satellite-based air traffic control system, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday.
With this rebate, FAA hopes to incentivize owners of some smaller planes to join the Next Generation Air Transportation System, a long-term project to bring modern and efficient technology to all aircraft by 2020.
The FAA will offer $500 rebates for single piston aircraft owners to install Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast Out, or ADS – B Out, a system that allows planes to send satellite signals for other planes or air traffic controllers to easily track their position in the sky, like an extremely precise GPS system.
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“All the major avionic manufacturers have stepped up to produce equipment that complies with our ADS-B Out mandate and increased competition has driven costs down considerably,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “Some units are now available for as low as $2,000.”
ADS-B is a major upgrade for most planes that currently use slower, less-reliable radar technology, Foxx said.
The FAA plan to open the rebates this Fall and will offer 20,000 of them to pilots on a first-come, first-served basis — despite there being about 160,000 total registered general aviation planes with old-style air traffic control technology. NextGen has also suffered from budget cuts and delays since 2014 that has caused many aviation leaders to worry the program would not successfully be able to meet a Jan. 1 2020 deadline that requires all aircraft to use ADS-B Out.
[Read more: NextGen plan cites funding as ongoing concern]
But Foxx said the FAA is confident it can make the deadline, and the rebates will still “move the dial a notch” towards its goal.
“Let me also say that NextGen has taken a fair number of hits during its life. We are now at a point where the measure of success for NextGen is going to be whether users actually have the equipment to make good use of it,” Foxx said. “So this is also part of a pivot in the universe of pilots out there who are going to have to step up and get equipped so that the promise of NextGen can be realized.”
Once the FAA reaches the 2020 deadline, the agency hopes to have produced $11.4 billion in benefits from the improvements NextGen, the larger program which includes ADS-B upgrades, will make to fuel conservation, reductions in maintenance, and passenger value in time. By 2030, it predicts to have saved about $134 billion.
Industry groups, like Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, praised the rebates for kickstarting the transformative process.
“We are pleased that the FAA is offering a rebate program to provide some relief for aircraft owners who install ADS-B Out equipment, and we hope the general aviation community will take full advantage of this opportunity,” AOPA President Mark Baker said in a statement. “By helping to defray that cost, this program could make a difference for aircraft owners who want to continue to have access to the airspace they use today.”
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