With less than a year remaining on the looming ADS-B Out compliance deadline, aerial firefighters are working with various levels of excitement to meet the January 1, 2020 equipment compliance. After that date, non-compliant  helicopter  and fixed wing aircraft will have limited access to US airspace. ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance broadcast) is considered an essential tool of 21st century air traffic management and is being implemented in both the US and Europe.

ADS-B Out avionics continuously broadcast an aircraft’s position (out) to air traffic controllers, within as little as one meter of accuracy. While ADS-B Out is mandated, operators can also select ADS-B In as an option, enabling pilots, themselves, to see the location of nearby aircraft on a cockpit- mounted display.

To meet the ADS-B Out deadline in the US, operators have been actively scheduling equipment retrofits- in some cases, as an integral part of scheduled winter maintenance. For example, an operator with four CH47D helicopters in their fleet began installations of ADS-B Out equipment in

the 2014 winter maintenance cycle, with all units reaching full compliance by January of 2019. Another operator has selected both ADS-B Out and ADS-B In for its nine BAe 146 tankers, with retrofits slated for completion during this year’s winter maintenance period.

One operations spokesperson said: “With ADS-B In deployed, our pilots will be able to see the call signs of all the aircraft working on the fire, this will improve situational awareness.” General consensus seems to exist that ADS-B Out is expected to enhance safety, allowing air traffic controllers to see where aircraft are at all times.

Many smaller fleet operators are currently still holding off on the retrofit, hoping to see some price reductions, as products are improved and competition increases prior to mandate. It is there where the largest doubts towards ADS-B Out will make any significant difference on the safety side are based. Many appear to view the mandate as a legally required hassle to be complied with and consequently show little haste of excitement for doing so.