A significant mandate for HEMS operators is looming on the horizon. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that aircraft operating in certain classes of airspace must be equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B) by Jan. 1, 2020.

This FAA ruling provides a logistical challenge to the entire industry and especially HEMS operators. The lack of certified repair stations coupled with the overwhelming demand for installations will likely create tremendous backlogs in the next few years.

Should owners and operators wait to meet the ADS-B mandate? Many pundits continue to cast doubt on the looming 2020 ADS-B Out mandate, and the Internet is full of blogs and chat rooms discussing the value of waiting. For example, many owners feel prices will become lower if they wait. Furthermore, pilots feel the ADS-B Out mandate will be pushed back or reversed entirely. Moreover, many continue to wait because of misunderstanding.

Regardless of the reasons, the FAA remains firm. In January 2020, aircraft operating in Class A, B, C and other airspace will require ADS-B Out. Industry experts agree; pilots and owners should install ADS-B now in order to avoid unnecessary expense and delays. Ultimately, HEMS operators have a great opportunity to upgrade to ADS-B while meeting other FAA Part 135 HEMS mandates, and the NextGen GA Fund offers financial support.

On June 25, Congress held meetings regarding the ADS-B dilemma. In his opening statement before the U.S. Senate subcommittee on aviation, FAA Deputy Administrator Michael G. Whitaker made it clear that the Jan. 1, 2020, deadline for ADS-B Out compliance was firm.

"Let me be very clear," Whitaker told lawmakers. "The 2020 deadline is not going to change. We are in a position to achieve this important milestone on time. The cost of equipment has come down considerably. There is sufficient maintenance capacity to allow all equipage to occur — in fact, waiting to equip might cost more if aircraft owners crowd repair stations to get the work done on the eve of the deadline."

The fact is the ADS-B network is up and running. Moreover, customers who have upgraded their ADS-B equipment are receiving free traffic and weather. Many experts agree, it is time to install ADS-B now or experience overwhelming expensive delays.

Rick Durden, an editor for AVweb and Aviation Consumer, makes a strong argument for installing ADS-B now. Durden, an economics major with a keen eye on the ADS-B dilemma, recently reviewed the reason people are procrastinating.

"I'm seeing estimates that to make the end of 2019 deadline, 100 airplanes are going to have to be upgraded every business day," Durden writes. "So far, that is not happening. Do you really want to be near the end of the line when owners wake up?"

Durden further points out that the FAA will not extend this mandate. The FAA has taken important steps to ensure everyone can meet the 2020 mandate. He points out the NextGen GA Fund has "a pile of money to lend at low rates," and the FAA has installed all ADS-B ground stations.

"There will be a real mess in 2019 as procrastinators scramble," Durden writes. "I suspect shop rates are going to do nothing but go up in the future. Prices for boxes may drop, but they already have dropped a fair amount — and any future price drop may be offset by increased shop prices. So, maybe it's time to bring ADS-B out of the 'I'll worry about it in a couple of years' file and stick it in the 'time to figure out what I'm going to do and do it' pile."

Tim Taylor, the CEO of FreeFlight Systems, also recommends installing ADS-B now. In a June article in Aviation International News, Taylor debunked the myth that lower-cost units would be available by delaying the installation of ADS-B. In fact, Taylor testified to Congress that the FAA set the ADS-B standards way in advance and that the functionality of an ADS-B unit bought today will be the same as that of an ADS-B unit bought at the Jan. 1, 2020 deadline.

Avionics shops are seeing an increase in business. However, installation lead times coupled with the overwhelming amount of unequipped aircraft have created a logistic bubble that will burst.

John DenDekker, the general manager for Carpenter Avionics at Smyrna Airport in Tennessee told Avionics News that "one of the things I tell people is that right now there may be no hurry, but they shouldn't let the ADS-B installation go past 2016. The last three years of installations before the mandate will be crazy."

Lastly, one of the oldest and most respected avionics shops recommends installing ADS-B now. Laura Nolan is the current president and owner of Nolan Avionics, one of the oldest FAA-certified repair stations with a specialization in avionics, and she points out that Garmin makes it easy to understand ADS-B.

Garmin has developed an ADS-B Academy where HEMS operators and aircraft owners can go to find frequently asked questions. Coincidently, Garmin has an intuitive Web-based application that walks owners through the process of selecting the required ADS-B equipment.

Ultimately, Nolan makes a solid point about the cost effectiveness of synchronizing installs and bundling upgrades. She notes that while avionics personnel are installing autopilot systems, it is the perfect time to install ADS-B because "it saves the customer half the installation cost."

The FAA has mandated HEMS operators install a number of components to include autopilot systems. HEMS operators can save time and considerable labor by installing ADS-B Out while meeting the FAA HEMS equipment mandates. The looming question becomes how to pay for all these avionics installations. Nolan points customers to the current Garmin rebates and the NextGen GA fund.

The FAA has developed a special fund to assist owners and operators: the NextGen GA Fund. "The focus of this Fund will be on approximately 157,000 general aviation (GA) owners and operators," according to the FAA.

This fund was developed to accelerate the installation of ADS-B through a low-cost loan-guarantee program. The NextGen GA Fund allows any aircraft owner — be it an individual or business — to receive ultralow interest financing for U.S.-registered piston, turbine and experimental aircraft. This includes all types and ages of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft.

HEMS operators and owners should look at the NextGen GA Fund at NextGenFund.com or by calling 202-558-7417. Undoubtedly, the question is not about upgrading to ADS-B, it is about how to finance the install. The NextGen GA Fund answers that question.

HEMS operators and aircraft owners of all types should schedule their ADS-B Out install as soon as possible. Richard Peri, vice president for government and industry affairs with the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA), summed it up best.

Peri told NATA Air Charter Summit attendees that now is the time for operators to install ADS-B. With approximately 1,400 work days left until Dec. 31, 2019, he said 130 aircraft a day need to be upgraded to ADS-B if the transition to the new equipage requirement is to be seamless. Coincidently, AEA President Paula Derks testified to Congress that there are about 700 certified repair stations and an estimated 160,000 aircraft requiring ADS-B.

Jan. 1, 2020, is looming on the horizon, and the logistical bubble will eventually burst. There will be long lead times and costly solutions. It is time to install ADS-B now. The ADS-B equipment is readily available, and industry experts agree the prices will only increase as the demand skyrockets near 2020.