ADS-B Compliance: The Potential Consequences Of Violating Rule Airspace

As most aircraft operators know, or should know, aircraft must now be equipped with ADS-B Out in order to fly in most airspace within the U.S.  Although it is possible to take advantage of limited waivers or exceptions, generally speaking ADS-B Out is required for operations in "Rule Airspace."

In connection with this requirement, the FAA recently updated Order 2150.3C - FAA's Compliance and Enforcement Program to explain potential sanctions for aircraft operations that do not comply with the ADS-B Out mandate.  Specifically, Chapter 9 of the Order now identifies the FAA's sanction policy/guidance for ADS-B related violations.

It is important to understand that the FAA will be taking these violations seriously. For example, if the FAA believes an airman is transmitting inaccurate ADS-B Out or transponder information with the intent to deceive, or is operating an aircraft without an activated transponder or ADS-B Out transmission (except as provided in 14 C.F.R. §91.225(f)) for purposes of evading detection, it will revoke that airman's certificates.

The sanction for other violations are not as severe, but are nonetheless significant.  The FAA characterizes the severity of the violation based upon levels of 1, 2 or 3, with Severity Level 3 being the most serious. And depending upon whether the FAA views the violation as careless or reckless/intentional, the sanction range could vary from low to maximum.

The FAA evaluates violations based upon impact on safety.  "Technical Noncompliance" involves violations where serious injury, death, or severe damage could not realistically occur as a result of the violation conduct, even if theoretically possible. A violation with a "Potential Effect on Safety"  occurs in a situation where serious injury, death, or severe damage could realistically result, but under the facts and circumstances would not often occur. Finally, a violation falls into the "Likely Effect on Safety" category where serious injury, death, or severe damage may occur more often as a result of the violation conduct.

When the operator fails to comply with ADS-B Out performance or broadcast requirements due to technical noncompliance, the violation is considered Severity Level 1. If the failure to comply with ADS-B Out performance or broadcast requirements has a possible effect on safety then the violation is Severity Level 2. And, not surprisingly, when the failure to comply with ADS-B Out performance or broadcast requirements has a likely effect on safety then it is a Severity Level 3 violation.

The specific sanction will also depend upon the type of violator.  If the violation is by an individual certificate holder, the airman will likely be facing suspension of his or her certificates.  An individual acting as an airman or a business entity will face a monetary civil penalty. In the case of a business, the amount will vary depending upon the size and revenue of the entity.

So, depending upon the circumstances, an individual certificate holder could face a suspension of his or her certificates for 20 -60 days, 60 -120 days, 90 -150 days, or 150 -270 days, depending upon whether the violation is in the low, medium, high, or maximum range, respectively. Other individuals and businesses could face civil penalties ranging from $100 to $34,174 per violation, depending upon the nature of the violator and how the FAA categorizes the violation.

In the event of multiple violations arising from the same act or omission, the FAA may give special consideration if the violation was careless, as opposed to reckless/intentional violations which receive no special consideration.  For an individual certificate holder the suspension could be anywhere from 30 -90 days, 90 -150 days, or 120 -180 days, depending upon whether the violation is Severity Level 1, 2 or 3, respectively. And an individual acting as an airman could be assessed a civil penalty in the amount of $5,000 -$10,000, $7,500 -$15,000, or $10,000 -$20,000, again depending upon whether the violation is Severity Level 1, 2, or 3, respectively.

For other individuals, the civil penalty could range anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000.  And business violators could be assessed civil penalties ranging from $50,000 to $600,000 depending upon the nature and size of the business, as well as the Severity Level of the violation.

Conclusion

Order 2150.3C provides the FAA inspectors and attorneys with a checklist for determining sanction in any given case involving an ADS-B violation.  Unfortunately, when a case gets to the point where the FAA is determining sanction, the actual calculations and method for arriving at the final assessed civil penalty is usually withheld.

However, it is important to understand that the facts and circumstances involved in any given case have an impact on both how the sanction is calculated as well as the amount of the civil penalty assessed.  If you find yourself defending against an alleged violation of Rule Airspace, knowing this information can help you defend yourself and, hopefully, successfully resolve the matter.