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Friday, September 09, 2016

Old dog, new trick: Transponder use on the airport surface

 August 25, 2016

Mike Yodice
  • Director of Legal Service Plans at Yodice Associates
  • Counsels Legal Services Plan/Pilot Protection Services members on FAA compliance and enforcement
  • Regularly flies a Piper J-3 Cub and a Cherokee 180
By now, many of you have heard or read that the FAA and air traffic control want us to ensure that our transponders are on and in the altitude reporting mode while operating on movement areas at all airports. If you’re like me and sometimes slow to adapt to change, particularly when it involves ingrained flying habits and procedures, it may take some getting used to. In the meantime, at least for most of us, noncompliance shouldn’t be an issue that leads to FAA enforcement.
If you learned to fly more than a few years ago, you were probably taught to turn your transponder on just prior to takeoff and to turn it off (or to standby) after landing and taxiing off the runway, whether at a towered or nontowered field. For many years this was the practice as promoted in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). The language in the AIM changed in 2012, 2014, and then again in 2016. In the current chapter 4 of the AIM, it now reads “Civil and military aircraft should operate with the transponder in the altitude reporting mode and ADS-B Out transmissions enabled (if equipped) at all airports, any time the aircraft is positioned on any portion of the airport movement area.” It goes on to relate certain other details, but the basic takeaway is that ATC now wants the transponder on for all operations in movement areas, i.e. at airports with operating control towers.
The change is associated with the transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) and includes the coordination of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and Airport Surface Surveillance Capability (ASSC). The effectiveness of the system relies on participation. More and more aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out are coming out and according to the FAA website, the ASSC system is installed at 35 major airports. Why then does the FAA want the transponder on at all towered airports, even the ones without ASSC? For enhanced safety where transponders are readable, and I guess they want to re-train us in advance of the 2020 mandate.
So will you get into trouble for noncompliance—forgetting to turn on or off your transponder? For most of us, the answer is no. It’s not required if you’re not ADS-B Out equipped as the AIM guidance is nonregulatory. If you have ADS-B Out equipment installed, however, 14 CFR 91.225(f) requires that your transponder must be in transmit mode at all times. And, if ATC asks you to turn on or off your transponder, whether ADS-B equipped or not, you should comply—compliance with ATC operational instructions is required in accordance with 14 CFR 91.123(b).
I am still adjusting to the change and I sometimes revert to old habits by turning the transponder off and on at the wrong times. So far, neither the controllers at my home airport, Frederick Municipal Airport (no radar), nor the controllers at Potomac Approach seem to notice, or care, when my transponder is in the wrong mode while on the airport movement area in my non-ADS-B-equipped aircraft.

Link to AOPA;