Business & GA, Commercial

Product Focus: Avionics Integration Kits

By Capt. Edward R. Hanson Jr. | June 1, 2001
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The problem: You own a fleet of older aircraft that still have useful time. You want to update the aircraft to enhance their utility, safety and efficiency. But your engineering staff can’t quite do the job in-house. What do you do?

The solution: You call manufacturers of avionics integration kits and seek competitive bids. You can get just about anything that you need from an avionics integrator.

Want to fly to Europe using DC-8 freighters? Need a traffic alert collision avoidance system (TCAS)?

The kit manufacturers have the supplemental type certificate (STC) for TCAS II, and their kits include everything from the display and processor to the antenna, ready for installation in your aircraft. And they have experience completing the job. Experience is the grease that gets jobs done quickly, and this translates directly to your bottom line. Less down-time equates to better aircraft utility and efficiency.

Satisfying Various Needs

Many airlines no longer have resident experts on their maintenance staff who can install complicated new avionics systems. Their management decisions regarding the relative merits of keeping retrofit work in-house or out-sourcing it resulted in allowing both the airline and the avionics integration kits manufacturer/supplier to prosper.

A unique niche evolved to answer the aircraft operator needs at several levels.

  • One airline may want only a box of hardware. Their maintenance operation is robust and fully capable of installing the trays, boxes, bolts and bundles of wire, with little need for engineering or technical support.

  • Another airline may want the integrator to "watch over their shoulder" while they complete the first few aircraft in a fleet-wide modification.

  • A third airline might require a turnkey operation, where the aircraft is pulled into the hangar and left with the integrator to "work his magic."

Corporate operators present avionics integration kit suppliers and manufacturers with the one-off situation. There often is no fleet, only one or two aircraft. These customers commonly require the entire panorama of avionics integration support, from initial concept drawings through engineering certification and on to installation, implementation, inspection and airworthiness approval.

Like the customer needs, integration kit manufacturers vary, in their capabilities. Some, for example, prefer only to build the kits and ship them out. Although integration kits hold many benefits, they work best after careful preparation and comparison-shopping. On its Website, Aircraft Engineering & Installation Services Inc. (AEI) suggests an "apples-to-apples" test to determine which avionics and installation methods serve best for an upgrade, and a list of questions to ask prospective installation partners is provided.

Avionics Magazine spoke with four representative avionics integrators: Aircraft Engineering & Installation Services Inc. (AEI), Electronic Cable Specialists Inc. (ECS), Aircraft Systems & Manufacturing Inc. (ASM) and Hollingsead.


Aircraft Engineering & Installation Services Inc., which recently moved to new facilities in Orlando, Fla., provides avionics integration kits for such customers as Alitalia, United, British Airways, Japan Airlines, and Japan Transocean. The system du jour, according to AEI Director of Marketing Terry George, referring to the commonly requested avionics units at a particular time, is largely determined by "what is mandated. It was TCAS, but the TCAS bubble is gone.

"EGPWS is big now," he adds. "What we see in the future are FDAMS [flight data acquisition management systems] with increased parameters. For this, we provide the wiring, trays, circuit breakers, etc., plus the sensors and sensor mounts, which come as service bulletin kits from Boeing."

The People’s Republic of China recently mandated ACARS, and AEI received "a lot of business from that," George adds. AEI has a technical support facility in Beijing, as well as a sales office in London. In Europe, AEI is able to accommodate operators requiring VHF com 8.33 KHz channel spacing upgrades.


Electronic Cable Specialists, too, has a Web page that spotlights its capabilities: Ray Frelk of ECS defines his company’s vision of an avionics integration kit as everything that is required to install a piece of avionics in the aircraft. He means everything. ECS employs about 300 people to engineer, build and install a plethora of avionics kits.

Comparable to AEI’s list of available products, ECS provides integration kits for TCAS I and II, Mode S, GPS, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B–as a part of the Air Cargo Association trials last summer), inertial navigation, basic area navigation (BRNAV), flight management systems (FMS), head-up displays, in-flight entertainment, EGPWS, windshear, cockpit voice and flight data recorders (CVR/FDR) and smoke/fire detection and suppression.

Frelk says ECS, which includes the STAR Alliance airlines (the United/Lufthansa group) as well as TACA (A300s) and South African Airways. "We hold an STC which removes older INS equipment and replaces it with a GPS with AHARS (attitude heading and reference system) installation that increases the RNP (required navigation performance) capability of the aircraft.

"We think that ACARS presents a lot of opportunity for us," Frelk states. "The smoke/fire detection and suppression system also will be a big performer. We expect that the FAA mandate [for these systems] will roll out worldwide, resulting in a demand for literally thousands of kits.

In addition, ECS developed for its integrated kits a filtration system to trap contaminants in the cooling airflow. The need for such a system became evident with the discovery of conductive materials in the filters associated with line replaceable units (LRUs). Conductive material can cause shorts caused by humidity changes due to cabin pressurization. This may contribute to what Frelk calls the "no fault found syndrome." The ECS filtration system is added to many installation kits where dirt is a problem–from fine sand to gravel dust.


Steve Williams, senior vice president, marketing and business development at ASM, says his company focuses on producing kits, usually installed when an aircraft gets a C or D check. The kits include optical quick access recorders (QARs), digital flight data recorder upgrades, reduced vertical separation minima (RVSM) compliant digital air data systems (DADS), EGPWS, ACARS, VHF data link, TCAS/ACAS/Mode S, satcom and cockpit modernization kits.

Each item adds considerable capability to an airframe. The QARs, for example, allow an airline or an individual operator immediate access to operational flight data information that may be crucial in understanding exactly what may have occurred during an incident. One airline found QAR data indicating a trend in premature flap extension. It used the information to reverse the trend by bringing it to their pilot’s attention.

Williams says ASM structures its kits so that they can be installed incrementally. In other words, some kits require little down-time because the kit is installed during overnight stops, over time. He adds that each kit includes everything "except the instant coffee for the mechanic."

Avionics integration kits can be the "great equalizer." They are maintenance management tools that can be used to leverage the resident capabilities of a flight operation to equal that of the largest airlines.

And at Hollingsead

At Goleta, Calif.-based Hollingsead International, considerable focus is being placed on integration kits for TCAS and for Aero I. The latter is being adopted by operators who do not require the coverage area of Aero H and can take advantage of lower kit costs and per-minute operating costs, according the company President Bill Weaver.

In addition, he adds, 5ATi upgrade programs driven by TAWS requirements represent significant current business and potential future business as operators convert analog instrument locations into EFIS.

Looking foward, Weaver is watching the development of markets for lower cargo-bay fire detection and suppression systems in South America, Canada and Asia, which are developing rapidly. The company was the integration kit supplier for about 60% of the U.S. market for fire kits stemming from the FAA rule implemented after the ValueJet incident.


Aero Systems Integration
Aerospace Display Systems Inc.
Aircraft Engineering & Installation
Aircraft Systems & Manufacturing Inc.
AVCOM Avionics & Instruments [email protected]
Avionics Support Group
Baker Electronics
Dayton T. Brown
Flight Systems Engineering
Hollingsead International
Innovative Solutions & Support
Keytech Engineering
TIMCO Engineered Systems Inc.

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