Is your cockpit ready for the FAA's NextGen air traffic control system? Getting real-time traffic information and current weather information used to cost thousands in equipment and subscription costs just a few years ago. Now, you just need a tablet and a small receiver for your glareshield.
These compact, feature-packed tools won't satisfy the FAA's requirements for planes to be "ADS-B Out" capable by the year 2020, but they do let you take advantage of the FAA's free traffic and weather information right now. You just pay for the receiver once, and there are no ongoing subscription or database fees (unless the flight planning app you already use has a subscription fee).
What's ADS-B? It stands for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, and it's the technology that will eventually replace air traffic control radar in the United States. Planes will use their GPS receivers to send real-time position information to the FAA's network of ground stations. Those ground stations beam back up information about every other airplane in the sky near yours. They also upload weather radar images, METARs, TAFs and other weather information that a cockpit MFD or your tablet can display.
Regardless of which unit you pick, these devices won't show every plane in the sky, since planes won't be required to transmit their ADS-B Out position data until the year 2020. At present, a growing number of commercial airliners and private jets have ADS-B Out installed, but many older general aviation planes do not. Even if your plane does have ADS-B Out (a combination of transponder and avionics stack upgrades), that won't increase the number of planes you see with these units.
If you're looking for a comprehensive traffic solution, consider pairing one of these units with a second traffic alert unit that can receive Mode C transponder signals from nearby aircraft.
If you're ready to make the leap, take a look at these three units:
Garmin GDL Series
Pay for it once, then get all the real-time traffic and weather data you can handle on Garmin's line of portable GPS units, or on a variety of iOS and Android tablets. The GDL series provides WAAS-accurate GPS and GLONASS position data and ADS-B. It'll work with many Apple and Android tablets using the Garmin Pilot app - but it's not compatible with any other navigation apps, like ForeFlight or WingX. Three versions are available. GDL 50 portable GPS & ADS-B In receiver, GDL 52 that offers GPS, both ADS-B In and Sirius XM, and the GDL 51 which offers portable GPS and Sirius XM weather, but no ADS-B In.
Dual XGPS190 GPS + AHRS+ ADS-B Weather Receiver
Compatible with Apple, Android, and Windows tablets, the XGPS190 provides pilots with essential weather and traffic information, directly to the cockpit. The receiver works with a variety of EFB apps, including apps that include synthetic vision. Up to two devices can connect to the unit at a time, making it easy for the pilot and co-pilot to work in harmony. Take it out of the plane once you arrive at your destination and use it with apps that require location information, such as navigation and golfing apps. Whether you are in the plane or on the ground, you can get 5 hours of use on a single charge. Then, charge it up with the included cigarette lighter adapter or wall charger.
Dual Universal GPS Receiver
This receiver, the size of a car's keyless remote, pairs with a single iOS, Android or Windows device and updates WAAS-accurate (within 8 feet) location data once per second. The Dual Universal GPS Receiver sends data to your device over Bluetooth and has an 8.5-hour battery, so you don't need to run any cables to use it in flight. The receiver works with most popular GPS apps, including ForeFlight, WingX, Garmin Pilot, AnywhereMap, JeppesenFD and others.
Dual SkyPro GPS Receiver
With support for up to five Bluetooth devices at once and a 10-hour battery, everyone on board can see where you are without stringing cables around each seat. The Dual SkyPro gets its position data from GPS and GLONASS satellites, updating position 10 times per second. It's compatible with any iOS, Android or Windows device that has Bluetooth, and will pass the position data along to dozens of different apps.
Garmin GLO for Aviation
The Garmin GLO Bluetooth receiver gets its position data from the GPS constellation and the Russian GLONASS satellite constellation, meaning more coverage around the world, since it can lock onto a greater number of satellites. Its battery lasts 12 hours and GPS data updates 10 times per second. While it comes with a free 6-month subscription for the Garmin Pilot app, it is compatible with other flying apps.