Refunds for GA radio upgrades: targeted funding for network benefits

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One of the principles of the Single European Sky (SES) is that the 'beneficiary pays', and one of the truths of SES is that network benefits are only achieved by coordinated and widespread implementation. The problem is that there are many instances when investment is needed by one party, for another party to reap the benefits; equally well understood is that benefits only ramp up when everyone in the network joins in.

One example of this is with the implementation of 8.33kHz channel spacing. It is needed to relieve VHF congestion across Europe and will enable three times the number of channels to be created within the VHF band. Implementation started at the higher flight levels, but new rules include aircraft flying below FL195 as well. It means that all aircraft must have 8.33 kHz capable radios by the end of 2017, and the main community affected by this are General Aviation (GA).

It's widely accepted that although there are some potential benefits to GA, such as reduced detours around 8.33 areas, more frequencies for new aerodromes and reduced frequency interference, for the most part the benefits go to ATC providers and airlines, who can increase efficiency and capacity for the greater good of our economies and our aviation industry.

This creates a classic conundrum that GA associations have been campaigning about – how to ease the financial burden of equipage on a community that does not benefit from it?

New 8.33 radios in certified aircraft cost an average of around €5,000, and aerodromes can be affected too. In Germany alone there are over 12,000 GA aircraft and an estimated €52 million of upgrade costs. Some States, like the UK, have applied individually for EU funds to support their aviators, but a new approach pioneered by IAOPA and Helios is hoping to have a bigger network impact. We have assembled a consortium of 19 countries under one grant application to alleviate the financial burden not only on GA aircraft, but also on GA aerodromes.

It's been a complex process, but we're hopeful that our application will be a model for future implementations. It's an idea that our chairman Mike Shorthose wrote about recently, how targeted funding can help ATM system modernisation, and it's just as relevant here. Rather than deploying incentivisation schemes to address disappointing uptake, why not plan to incentivise from the outset, targeting funding to achieve our objectives.

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