The technological one-upmanship among avionics firms introducing their latest innovations at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, each summer has, until this year, been a seemingly endless upward progression. More features, greater integration, higher levels of automation—and spiraling prices.
Synthetic vision, FMS-style keypads, multi-screen glass panels, and redundant air data computers have gone from unheard of to standard equipment on some new, piston-powered airplanes in less than two years. But the new high-end avionics that gave some GA aircraft navigation and information displays that commercial airline pilots would envy also brought dizzying new costs for panels that often reached well into six figures.
When the credit crisis, recession, and Big Three-inspired public relations debacle struck aviation with devastating force late last year, GA avionics firms scrambled to retool their products to match the sobering and scary new market realities.
Garmin introduced a slew of new products for experimental, light sport, FAA-certified, and business-class aircraft at this year’s AirVenture—but the one that seemed to garner the most interest was the G500, essentially a G600 light.
The two-screen PFD/MFD is externally identical to its more costly predecessor. But without synthetic vision, Garmin’s new GAD43 autopilot interface, or the more rigorous software testing required for FAA certification on larger aircraft, the G500 sells for $15,995, a little more than the half the $29,995 list price of a G600.
The G500 is aimed at the GA retrofit market, but it’s also being installed on new Aviat, Piper, Waco, and other FAA-certified aircraft for which the G600 may be technological overkill.
“We’ve sold 19 aircraft already with the G500,” said Stu Horn, president of Aviat Aircraft, which manufactures Husky utility airplanes in Afton, Wyoming. “The G600 is a great unit, but it has capabilities that our pilots just don’t want or need. The G500 is a much better fit for us.”
Garmin also has upgraded the G600 by adding synthetic vision (at no cost to current G600 owners), a GAD43 autopilot adapter that uses the G600 ADAHRS (instead of mechanical gyros) to drive a variety of autopilots, Class B TAWS, and a GWX68 radar interface.
Avidyne also has moved down market with it FMS 400, an outwardly similar but less inwardly extravagant derivative of its elegant Entegra Release 9 integrated avionics suite (see “Avionics: Avidyne Release 9,” July 2009 AOPA Pilot). Avidyne won FAA certification for Release 9 early this year and hoped to find a ready market with the owners of 5,000 Entegra aircraft anxious to upgrade, as well as new aircraft manufacturers.
Release 9 includes twin Integrated Flight Displays (IFDs) driven by two ADAHRS units, a QWERTY keyboard, and WAAS approaches. The FMS 400, however, jettisons the second ADAHRS, the keyboard, and WAAS capability (although those features can be added later). The FMS 400 sells for $39,500, far below the $72,800 price of Release 9. Avidyne plans to start delivering FMS 400s in September when the initial backlog of Release 9 retrofits are scheduled to be complete.
Dan Schwinn, Avidyne president and chief executive, said adverse economic conditions and reduced used aircraft values have made pilots and aircraft owners much more price sensitive than they used to be. But Schwinn said that the most damaging portion of the aviation industry’s 2009 economic tsunami appears to be over.
“Light GA is through the worst part of the dip,” he said. “We’re seeing small but steady and meaningful improvements.”
The most surprising new product at AirVenture was the portable AV8OR ACE by Bendix/King.
The touch-screen GPS/MFD/EFB has a seven-inch screen (the same size as rival Garmin’s popular GPSMAP 695/696), and it offers geo-referenced approach plates as well as IFR charts. Other features that come at added costs include datalink weather, approach plates and IFR charts, fuel price information, and a roads database for driving. (IFR charts and approach plates are $399 a year for the ACE compared to $1,200 for paper charts.)
Bendix/King reentered the portable aviation GPS market last year with its smaller (4.3-inch) touch-screen AV8OR. The ACE carries a retail price of $1,995 compared to $750 for the original AV8OR. But the ACE is priced more than $1,000 lower than Garmin’s 695/696.
Bendix/King also has finished FAA certification test flights on its long-awaited KFD 840 and KSN 770 PFD and MFD designed for the GA retrofit market.
The KFD 840 ($16,995) was set to begin customer deliveries in September. GPSS roll steering was scheduled to be added late this year, and synthetic vision is planned for 2011.
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