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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Q&A: Paul DeHerrera, Universal Avionics

Universal Avionics Systems, based in Tucson, Ariz., announced new contracts and new capabilities for its slate of avionics systems. The privately held company, which celebrated its 30th anniversary at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) conference and exhibition in Las Vegas in October, is hoping to grow its business while still maintaining the customer-driven approach that it has employed for the last 30 years, according to Paul DeHerrera, chief operating officer of Universal Avionics.

The company is advancing its products, providing an upgrade path for customers to add new technologies to its existing systems, DeHerrera said. At NBAA, Universal announced upgrades to its Synthetic Vision System (SVS), called Vision-1+, adding runway depiction, a high-resolution terrain database and extended centerline capabilities to the system. The upgraded hardware and software combine to enable the high-resolution display of runways for origin and destination airport. Additionally, terrain and runways are presented in 15 arc-second data resolution worldwide with three times the coverage of six arc-second data in the vicinity of airports, according to the company.

Other announcements at the show include Universal’s selection by Honda Aircraft Company to supply cockpit voice and flight data recorders as optional equipment on the new HondaJet business aircraft.

DeHerrera discussed these announcements, the state of the business aviation industry and what’s ahead for Universal Avionics with Avionics Magazine.

Question: Universal Avionics announced upgrades to its SVS here at the show. Can you describe the upgrades and how they’ll be incorporated into the system?

Answer: One of the things that Universal always tries to do is provide our customers with an upgrade path. A lot of times companies will come out with a product and it’s like now you have to throw away what you’ve bought and buy something new. We’ve always been sensitive to that, so we’ve always tried to provide an upgrade path for our customers, for our FMS, our displays package and so forth. … We’re trying to provide upgrades to our customers so that they can continually take advantage of new technologies. And that’s what the Vision 1+ upgrade is about. So we offer it as a software upgrade package; it’s a software load to the displays and it provides you with the destination runway depiction and along with that, we have in magenta extended runway and it’s really nice because when you come in for the approach you can actually see those extended runway lines that guide you in visually. So it’s a nice upgrade package for our existing customers.

Q: Were customers asking for these particular upgrades?

A: Customers certainly want some of that, but it’s more of answering the call. Not so much for customers requesting it but to advance the product. Other manufacturers [in the forward-fit market]… are showing the ability to show runway symbology on the new flight decks that are being offered in new aircraft deliveries. We always like to say this is for the rest of the world. … We talk to a lot of customers and they’re not buying that brand new airplane, so it’s cool for them to see these new technologies, but they don’t get to use them because they’re not in the market for a brand new Gulfstream or a brand new Cessna. They’re still operating their existing aircraft so this gives them an opportunity on the retrofit side to take advantage of these new technologies, which includes runway depictions, synthetic vision and those types of technologies in an existing aircraft. So that’s what we bring to the table, different from those other guys.

Q: Is there a segment of the business jet market that you’re targeting?

A: It’s really available across the board. We have right now about 34 individual [supplemental type certificates] for various aircraft types, all the way from King Airs to Lear Jets to Boeing 737s, so we go across the gamut with those STCs. A lot of those would be good candidates … to upgrade to the Vision 1+. We have a lot of customers flying with the product today and it’s not that expensive of an upgrade to get the runway capabilities.

Q: What does the next upgrade look like?

A: We’re working on our next-generation and it’s nothing short of amazing. It’s pretty cool. … Most likely it’ll be announced at next year’s NBAA. … We’re working on what we think is a real leap-frog product that’s going to come out on the market place and we want to be able to make it available very, very close to the announcement … You want to be able to show and deliver.

Q: What are your impressions on the overall state of the business aviation market? How is 2012 shaping up in terms of the overall market?

A: Well, we’re cautiously optimistic. I don’t see a recovery happening in ’12. I think we’re going to see more of the same. We’re somewhat more optimistic after the show this week; there are a lot of programs that are kicking up. … We’re still forecasting pretty flat year-over-year, meaning 2012 will be pretty much like 2011. We see an uptick in 2013. … I wish it were sooner, but we’re just not convinced of it. Gulfstream is a bright spot, but for the most part, the rest of them are pretty much slugging it out … but the corporate marketplace is still struggling and I don’t see a big change in that year-over-year.

Q: What about Universal? What do the next 12 months to 18 months look like for this company?

A: The strength of Universal Avionics during the last two years in this recession is going to be our strength in 2012, and that’s our WAAS-LPV and our flight management product. We were ready for the market at that time and that’s what has been a leader in our sales for the last two years, and it’ll be the same in 2012. … More and more LPV approaches are published throughout the United States now. … now EGNOS has come onboard and our product works in the EGNOS environment so we’re starting to see the European market come alive, the same way we saw two years or more ago in the U.S., so we’re starting to get a lot of requests for our product from our European customers. We see that carrying us through 2012 and 2013. The other thing that we released here at the show is our UL801, which is our datalink product. It’s a communications management unit and that product is going to be very active in Europe. … It’s just these niche programs that will help get us through the tough times.

Q: Universal Avionics celebrated its 30th anniversary at this year’s show. Can you reflect on the state of the company given that milestone?

A: One thing that has been fun about Universal Avionics is that we’ve been privately held, and we’re still mixing it up with the big boys even though we’re a privately held company. One of our inherent strengths is the fact that we are privately held; it doesn’t take us long to move forward on decisions on a product, so we’re really trying to build on that strength of being fast and flexible. … it’s nice to be able to have an owner who is a pilot who listens to you and we’re trying to build on those strengths. We’re growing up as a company. … We’re stronger now; we know how to handle export controls … all that infrastructure from the last three years we’re putting into our contracts so we’re more grown up. Going forward we’re really excited because now we’ve divided up those sectors and we know how to handle the military, the airline and the corporate marketplace. So we’re getting ready for the uptick.

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