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Early Adopters of ADS-B: UPS and JetBlue

With U.S. airlines at various stages of equipping their aircraft with Jan. 1, 2020 mandate-compliant ADS-B Out solutions, JetBlue, UPS and ACSS provide industry perspectives on some of the earliest adoptions of acquiring, installing and operating with the mandated equipment.

Six years after the FAA mandated Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) Out equipage for aircraft flying in airspace that requires a transponder, today, the agency estimates just 671 airliners have been equipped with rule-compliant DO-260B ADS-B Out solutions, as of Aug. 1, 2016. Based on airline-reported fleet information through the beginning of 2016, 4,131 airliner aircraft still require upgrades before the 2020 mandate. While every airline has its own unique operational profiles and aircraft requirements when it comes to equipping with ADS-B, two airlines have proven to be some of the most active carriers in early adoption of ADS-B: JetBlue and UPS. Both airlines equipped with ADS-B Out solutions from ACSS, one of the largest suppliers of airliner-class solution.

Despite the mandate being set and revised, certification practices streamlined, and solutions becoming increasingly available, alongside a new exemption to allow airlines to equip with more accurate GPS receiving equipment by 2025, the switch from traditional radar to ADS-B is still an ongoing process. And a process that requires close coordination between avionics manufacturers, airline technology teams, air traffic controllers the FAA and various other stakeholders. Interviews with ADS-B experts from all three companies provide in-depth insight on how operators are equipping to comply with the rule, what challenges they have had to overcome and what potential future benefits they see — or don’t see — from equipping with ADS-B Out.

UPS Airlines

The relationship between UPS and ADS-B dates back to 1997, when the cargo carrier purchased IIMorrow Avionics, which later became UPS Aviation Technologies (UPS AT), before it was ultimately purchased by Garmin in 2003. By 2006, UPS had equipped its entire fleet with the earliest version of ADS-B Out using DO-260B transponders, prior to upgrading to DO-60A by 2008 and then again to DO-260B in 2015. The airline’s fleet of Boeing 747-400s, 767-300s, Airbus A300-600s and MD-11s use ACSS DO-260B transponders, and Rockwell Collins’ Multi Mode Receivers (MMRs). The carrier’s Boeing 757s feature Rockwell Collins standalone GPS units, and transponders that will also require some conversions. The plan is to achieve the conversion by 2017, according to UPS Advanced Flight Manager Christian Kast.

While Kast says the airline has not seen any operational improvements relating to fuel, cost or flight time reductions by equipping with ADS-B in the United States, it does yield benefits in other areas of the world.

“ADS-B Out does not afford large carriers any improvement for fuel consumption. [But] being equipped with ADS-B Out has allowed UPS aircraft access to airspace in Europe, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia,” says Kast.

Having been an early adopter of ADS-B, the airline has also highlighted operational issues to the FAA, primarily regarding a lack of GPS reception on the ground in areas blocked by terminal structures that can cause an ADS-B Out transponder failure, which lead to changes in FAA’s policy for transponder manufacturing, according to Kast.

“The FAA will now allow an ADS-B Fail indication as well as a transponder fail light, and will allow a fail indication while taxiing out prior to take off due to poor satellite constellation configuration,” says Kast.

Aireon’s Space-based ADS-B payload on the Iridium NEXT satellite, affixed to the satellite launch dispenser.Photo courtesy of Aireon.

Additionally, UPS has been an active member of the FAA’s Equip 2020 program, where it indicated the viability of GPS SA Aware generation two GPS receiver solutions and emphasized a lack of viable GPS generation three receivers for commercial carriers. In 2015, the FAA issued a time-limited grant of exemption from certain elements of the ADS-B Out rule, Exemption 12555, which allows operators whose equipment meets certain conditions and limitations an exemption from the GPS-receiver requirement to upgrade their receivers with the more accurate generation three versions by 2025. The agency has stressed, though, that this is not an extension of the 2020 mandate, as all other equipage requirements within the rule are still being enforced.

“UPS has a plan to convert all GPS receivers to generation two receivers prior to 2020, and then to purchase generation three receivers when they become available for standard installation on Part 121 aircraft,” says Kast.

The aerial cargo carrier was also the pioneer of the ADS-B In concept, performing operational evaluations of ADS-B In with a Cockpit Display of Traffic Information (CDTI) on Boeing 727s as far back as 2000, although a decision was made last year to remove ADS-B In traffic information displays from its Boeing 757 and 767 flight decks because the equipment has become obsolete. However, Kast says once ADS-B Out equipage reaches critical mass among U.S. airliners in the near future, there will be benefits from the use of ADS-B In.

“Once the whole of National Airspace System [NAS] users are equipped with ADS-B Out, then ADS-B In becomes very beneficial to large air carriers like UPS,” says Kast.


JetBlue’s earliest introduction of ADS-B across its fleet of Airbus A320s, A321s and Embraer E-190s came as the result of a cost-sharing activity with the FAA originally formulated in 2011. Under that agreement, the FAA agreed to pay $4.2 million for ADS-B avionics boxes supplied by ACSS, while JetBlue provided flight operations, pilot checks and training, aircraft maintenance and the cost of aircraft downtime while ADS-B was installed on 35 total A320s. As a result, today, JetBlue has 39 A320s equipped with ACSS ADS-B-Out-rule compliant DO-260B transponders, and a plan in place to equip its remaining fleet with ADS-B Out as well as other NextGen technologies, including DataComm, Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) 7.1 and Iridium satellite communications by 2018. JetBlue, the fifth largest U.S. carrier in terms of annual passengers carried, has discovered operational benefits as a result of equipping with ADS-B, but there have been and will be challenges remaining on its path to full-fleet equipage.

JetBlue Director of Strategic Airspace Programs Joseph Bertapelle says the airline discovered the earliest benefits as the result of expansion to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, several years ago. Shortly after adding ADS-B to its fleet of A320s, those same aircraft started flying traditional Q Routes from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. According to Bertapelle, when that traditional Q Route is not available due to weather, JetBlue and other aircraft get re-routed along a much longer path to California. Because the FAA covered the Gulf of Mexico with ADS-B ground stations though, Bertapelle worked with controllers to instead send them directly across the ADS-B airspace of the Gulf of Mexico. This was first accomplished in June 2013.

“Our flight operations analysis team used data from the mileage savings from that alternative route, and it came out to be a $500 savings in fuel per flight. We applied that to the 35 aircraft equipped with ADS-B and the number of flights, and it came out to be a $250,000 annual savings in fuel costs,” says Bertapelle.

The problem though, according to Bertapelle is that it currently is not possible to use that alternative ADS-B routing 100 percent of the time when severe weather is present, because it involves complex of coordination of many different NAS stakeholders, such as various Air Traffic Control (ATC) centers well beyond JetBlue.

Currently, in 2016, Bertapelle and JetBlue are dealing with several different aspects of ADS-B equipage. First, the airline’s plan is to complete its ADS-B Out upgrades on its A320, A321 and Embraer fleets by the second quarter of 2018. What JetBlue learned over the last year, though, was the same aspect of ADS-B Out equipage that other carriers in the U.S. learned: that its MMR equipage needs to be addressed, as they have a mixed equipage of SA = On and SA = Aware, and they have learned that SA = On receivers are not accurate enough to meet the requirements for the 2020 mandate.

“Now that we have stopped buying A320s, and all the buying is A321s, we’re looking to standardize the A321 fleet with all of the NextGen technologies, including Data Comm. At the same time we’re still trying to evaluate how to finish equipping the older A320s. It’s not necessarily the price of the unit, but how much does it cost to add it to the older A320?” says Bertapelle, noting that the airline plans to add ADS-B, Data Comm and satcom to one A320 by the end of the year, evaluate the cost and then establish a full-scale NextGen equipage plan for the remaining older A320s in its fleet.

The next major step in JetBlue’s ADS-B plans, though, are to leverage the capabilities of Aireon’s global space-based ADS-B network.

A recent study on the immediate, mid-term and long-term benefits that can be derived from space-based ADS-B published by the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) analyzed how the global surveillance network can be used for aircraft cruising, climbing or descending on the same track. The study included advice from the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Separation and Airspace Safety Panel (SASP), which is currently considering how space-based ADS-B can be used to reduce the current 30 nm/30 nm oceanic lateral and longitudinal aircraft separation standard. Bertapelle says that JetBlue has used similar studies from Aireon, the FAA and Virginia Tech, showing how the airline can improve its aircraft operations if the FAA decides to sign up for space-based ADS-B in the United States. Results from those studies show that, because of the increased surveillance in New York’s oceanic airspace and along the border of the east coast of the United States, where JetBlue has a significant amount of aircraft flying, their aircraft would be able to perform some step climbing that they are not able to today when using just the ground-based ADS-B infrastructure currently in place in the United States.

“Based on our route structure, in those areas where we would get increased surveillance, and perform step climbs that we’re not able to today, we could save 800,000 gallons of fuel per year because of the reduced separation and step-climbing that would become available,” says Bertapelle. While Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) in several other nations have already committed to service agreements for space-based ADS-B with Aireon, the U.S. has not yet. “If we’re truly going to get to a position in the future where we’re going to manage the airplanes with time not speed, space-based ADS-B could play a crucial role in that,” says Bertapelle.

A Supplier Perspective

ACSS has ADS-B Out solutions currently operating in standard line fit positions on Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, AT, Bombardier and SSJ among other airframes. Approximately 70 percent of U.S. airliner aircraft that have upgraded with ADS-B have done so using ACSS equipment. The company’s latest released products, the NXT 600, 700 and 800 transponders are DO-260B compliant squawking flight data including position, flight ID, direction and speed. ACSS President Terry Flaishans says the company has also moved to lower certification and installation challenges for operators that are upgrading their aircraft with ADS-B by working with the FAA.

“We have a strong relationship with the [Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office] LAACO and have developed effective and efficient processes to support our STC projects. ACSS has accomplished numerous STCs for ADS-B solutions to the point that the FAA is allowing ACSS to demonstrate compliance with minimal FAA involvement required in both ground and flight testing. This reduces the workload of the FAA and significantly expedites the STC approval process as well. In fact, ACSS is in the final stages of obtaining an FAA Organization Designation Authorization [ODA] that will allow ACSS to directly issue such STC’s in the near future,” says Flaishans.

More work is also under way.

“To date, ACSS has STC approvals on a variety of aircraft types, including Airbus A310, A321 and A330 configurations, as well Boeing 757 and 767 configurations. STC projects with approvals pending with the FAA include A300/A310 and A319/A321 configurations, and Boeing B777 and MD10/11 configurations. An Approved Model Listing (AML) STC for a variety of business jet aircraft is also in final review at the FAA with approval expected within weeks,” says Flaishans. AVS