Despite a lingering recession causing layoffs by business aircraft manufacturers earlier this year, the corporate jet avionics upgrade business–spurred by upcoming government mandates–remains surprisingly strong. The mandates for terrain avoidance warning systems (TAWS), emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) and equipment for reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) draw steady business.
Corporate aircraft operators also are choosing other items to enhance safety, installing such non-mandated equipment as the traffic alert collision avoidance system (TCAS). And, ranking just behind these safety enhancements in popularity, are upgraded cabin communications and entertainment systems, particularly in long-range business jets.
Avionics Magazine contacted several major service centers and found their avionics departments are working at full capacity–and expect to continue doing so for some time. "We’re absolutely packed," says Wayne Hundsdorfer, director of avionics and maintenance sales for Midcoast Aviation, St. Louis. "We had a slow period at the end of last year’s fourth quarter, but we’re really going gangbusters now. A lot of airplanes are changing hands. Many of these new customers are doing some upgrades both in interior and in avionics–basically meeting the new requirements."
"The mandates are a driving force," agrees Gary Harpster, with avionics modification sales at Duncan Aviation. "Almost every aircraft here is having RVSM done on it." Duncan has had 54 aircraft per month going through its Lincoln, Neb., facility, and another 38 to 40 through its Battle Creek, Mich., center. The avionics sides of both facilities "have been running over 100 percent since November of last year, and it looks like it is going to continue, he says.
Bizjet owners are scurrying to meet a January 2004 deadline for ELT compliance and the March 2005 date for TAWS compliance. The RVSM deadline has been extended from December 2004 to January 2005. To take full advantage of critical aircraft downtime, however, operators often opt for other avionics enhancements, too.
A concern exists that the airplanes still due for RVSM retrofit will exceed capacity between now and 2005. "We’re starting to see an increase in RVSM business; however, not to the level we would like to see it," says Midcoast’s Hundsdorfer. "We’re hoping that later this year people will start getting on board [and] that if they have any inspections or major maintenance coming up, they will implement RVSM on their aircraft in that downtime."
Some Major Upgrades
While the business of equipping corporate aircraft with mandated systems appears to far exceed that of major cockpit upgrades, Garrett Aviation Services has enjoyed recent success in installing full-up Collins Pro Line 21 Continuum systems on Falcon 20s and 50s. The Tempe, Ariz.-based unit of General Electric expects to complete five such major installations this year, according to Garrett’s Mike Anderson, director of avionics. "We have been hoping to snag a Challenger or two," he adds.
The company also is handling some Collins FDS 2000 installations, along with new Universal Avionics 550 flat panel display systems, including the 640 multifunction display (MFD). Overall, Anderson says, Garrett has seen its avionics business improve. "Our first-quarter results were right at plan," he says. "With RVSM and other upgrade programs, we can take advantage of the regulatory mandates and, with some of the engineering we’ve done on major programs, continue to get some full cockpit upgrades."
Garrett offers RVSM upgrades on Falcon 10s and 100s and on several Citation models "When we look at the aircraft out there requiring [RVSM] upgrades, we see business escalating" as the mandate approaches, Anderson says. Garrett estimates that more than 7,000 aircraft will require RVSM installations.
But TAWS represents the largest amount of avionics work at Midcoast and much of the work at Duncan Aviation. They either install a new TAWS on aircraft or change out older "ground-prox" systems which don’t meet requirements, says Harpster.
Midcoast, a service center for Raytheon, Dassault and Bombardier aircraft, also is installing a number of Iridum-based satellite phone systems as well as high-speed data (HSD) systems for the larger bizjets.
Flight management system (FMS) and display upgrades–such as with the Honeywell FMZ 2000 and the Collins FDS 2000–are popular, too, Hundsdorfer says, pointing to "a real interest" in the "new weather graphics available now on FMS." To display weather graphics in the cockpit requires the Aircraft Flight Information Service (AFIS-Honeywell) or UniLink (Universal Avionics) data link system to be upgraded and the FMS or other cockpit display to have video-type capability.
"It’s an additional safety feature," Hundsdorfer explains. Midcoast also has installed several television systems this year, including the Honeywell AIS 2000 and the Collins-Airshow Tailwind 200 system.
Midcoast is handling some fairly large retrofits, recently installing a Collins FDS 2000 costing about $400,000. But it finds the "million-dollar-plus upgrades," such as the Collins Pro Line 21 and the Honeywell Primus Epic CDSR are "a hard sell," says Hundsdorfer.
Duncan, the largest privately owned center in the United States, also recently installed an FDS 2000 flight display system that replaces electromechanical display systems on a Challenger 600. Two other customers were "looking at" ProLine 21 systems, says Harpster.
The rush to RVSM has enabled smaller service centers to enter the avionics upgrade market. Jet Source operates a maintenance and avionics repair station in Carlsbad, Calif. To meet the RVSM mandate, "we’re offering [installations that meet] existing STC [supplemental type certificate] and service bulletin approval for basically any aircraft out there that has [an RVSM] solution," says Scott Hall, Jet Source’s director, sales and marketing. The company employs an outside engineering firm but does the installations in Carlsbad, using an RVSM-certified air data test set. It uses different manufacturers’ equipment, depending on what the service bulletin or STC calls for, Hall says.
The center had completed three RVSM installations earlier this year, one on a Hawker 800XP. "We’re just getting started this year, but we’re letting our customers know that if you have an [RVSM] solution available, go ahead and schedule, because next year is going to be real tough to get in," Hall warns.
Jet Source has installed 20 TAWS systems since the beginning of 2002, using Honeywell and Sandel systems. FAA mandates have been good for Jet Source, which has doubled its avionics installer staff, employing eight.
Suppliers and an OEM
A major corporate aircraft manufacturer, Gulfstream, also provides avionics upgrades at its six completion/service centers in the U.S. and UK. Gulfstream says it is developing RVSM upgrade packages for its GII and GIII aircraft. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) also is an authorized distributor for major avionics suppliers.
In addition, Gulfstream reports a 36-system backlog for its head-up display with enhanced vision system (HUD/EVS), which is in service on GV and GIV-SP aircraft. The Gulfstream HUD/EVS is standard equipment on the new G550, scheduled to enter service later this year. While most HUD/EVS systems are fitted to aircraft coming off the assembly line, Gulfstream claims a strong demand exists for EVS from owners of fielded bizjets, as well.
As expected, Rockwell Collins and Honeywell are the major suppliers of avionics upgrade equipment, but there are other suppliers, including L-3 Communications, Universal Avionics, Sandel Avionics, and Innovative Solutions and Support (IS&S). Honeywell appears to have the most products, ranging from a full-up Primus Epic CDS/R cockpit to altimeters that meet RVSM requirements. It leads the TAWS market with its enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS); some 13,000 systems are now flying, including about 3,600 on corporate aircraft.
"The [TAWS] mandate certainly doesn’t hurt," says Dan Barks, Honeywell’s director of marketing for business, regional and general aviation. "But, well before they had to, people were equipping [EGPWS] because it made sense."
Honeywell offers a range of TCAS products, from its lower-cost TAS (traffic advisory system), which sells for about $20,000, to its TCAS 2, for $120,000. Honeywell also offers a TAS combined with a lower-cost Class B TAWS, aimed at the high-end piston, turboprop and light jet market. The Class B TAWS uses the same look-ahead terrain database but lacks some of the Class A system’s refinements. The combined TAWS/TAS costs approximately $28,000, and the company has sold "more of those by far than single TAS or single ground prox units," Barks claims.
Honeywell has seen sales of its Primus Epic large liquid crystal display (LCD) retrofit package, called CDS/R (control display system/ retrofit), falter. The company has been unable to provide the legacy interfaces required to fit the system into some older aircraft, Barks explains. "We have a lot of OEM positions with Primus Epic, and we’re totally focused on completing and certifying those," he adds. "But that has taken resources away from shoring up the interface capability in the aftermarket."
To meet the RVSM mandate, Honeywell has targeted its digital air data altimeter systems to specific airframes and made retrofit packages available for the majority of Primus Epic- (1000 and 2000) equipped cockpits that may not have had these systems.
Collins’ Pro Line 21 Continuum is targeted to the corporate aircraft aftermarket, offering flexibility to choose integrated systems or individual products. "It’s a retrofit-type product line that takes all our products and molds them into packages that can be used in the aftermarket," explains Tom Simon, marketing manager for aftermarket sales. "Then we specifically target certain platforms for certification."
To date, Collins’ fully integrated systems have been certified on the Challenger 601, Falcon 20 and 50. They feature 8-by-10-inch flat panel LCDs and the FMS-6000 flight management system. The company’s FDS-2000 systems, which use 7-inch-diagonal LCD displays, are certified on the Hawker 700, Citation III, Gulfstream II and III, and Challenger 600. (The TCAS, AHRS and radar also are included in the Falcon, Gulfstream and Challenger 600 installations.)
With its Continuum product line, which can add value to business jets, Collins hopes to counter the wait-and-see attitude among customers. "We see a lot of interest, but uncertainty in the economy causes [bizjet owners] to wait," says Simon. While not as good as anticipated, the retrofit business "is up for us this year," he says.
Collins does not offer a TAWS product, but is seeing orders for air data computers and associated equipment needed to meet the RVSM mandate. Most RVSM solutions involve updates to current air data computers. But, Simon adds, "In some cases, they may have an autopilot that can’t meet RVSM requirements, so they opt for a whole new system."
Collins’ HSD and satcom products continue to sell in the aftermarket. Its HST-900 high-speed transceiver, using the Inmarsat network, provides 64 kilobits/sec of connectivity when linked to the Collins SAT-906 satcom. Collins is targeting the transceiver at high-end users that already have the Collins satcom installed on Falcon 2000, Challenger 604, Gulfstream IV and V, and Global Expess bizjets.
Phoenix-based ACSS, which acquired one of Honeywell’s TCAS 2 product lines, now offers a combined TAWS and TCAS. Called T2CAS, the system was certified last February to meet the Class A TAWS mandate.
To date, ACSS, owned by L-3 Communications and Thales, has concentrated on the air transport and regional market, but it now is working to certify T2CAS on several bizjets. "Our plan is to have five business jet STCs by early next year to give to our dealer network and mod centers," says Larry Tank, ACSS manager of technical customer interface.
ACSS believes that all TCAS 2000-equipped bizjets "are excellent candidates" for T2CAS. The upgrade "simply adds the TAWS function to the TCAS 2000 box and offers optional GPS and windshear prediction, as well," says an ACSS spokesman.
Another Arizona-based firm, Universal Avionics Corp., in Tucson, sees "a lot of FMS retrofits," according to Paul DeHerrera, Universal’s director of North American marketing. These include Universal’s EFI 550/600 integrated flat panel display system, recently certified by Elliott Aviation on a Learjet 35. Designed for retrofits, the display system accepts both analog and digital signals.
Universal, which also provides a Class A TAWS, unveiled its Class B TAWs at the AEA convention last April. Listed at $20,000, the unit can be upgraded to a Class A, DeHerrera says. He hoped to have it certified by July, followed closely by deliveries to installation centers.
L-3 Avionics Systems (acquired from Goodrich), in Grand Rapids, Mich., has been providing a Class B TAWS for the past year. It also offers a collision avoidance system for lighter business aircraft. L-3’s Skywatch HP, an option on Cessna Citation- series aircraft, provides traffic warnings but not conflict resolutions. It has a 35-mile range, and information can be displayed on an electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) or MFD, according to Steve Rutherford, marketing communications manager. Its list price is $22,000. L-3’s Landmark TAWS 8000, which meets the FAA mandate, is listed at under $10,000, making it perhaps the least expensive certified TAWS.
Another entry in the TAWS market is the ST3400, produced by Sandel Avionics, Vista, Calif. It uses a dedicated display in place of the cockpit radio magnetic indicator (RMI) and meets both Class A and B TAWS standards. Last March FAA granted Sandel’s Class B TAWS approval to utilize GPS altitude, eliminating the need for an air data computer. Sandel also produces a color map electronic horizontal situation indicator.
A major player in the RVSM field is IS&S, Exton, Pa. It provides RVSM-capable systems for corporate aircraft, as well as for air transport aircraft. Gulfstream awarded the company contracts to retrofit GII and IIB aircraft, and Duncan Aviation has ordered RVSM solutions for up to eight business jet types from IS&S.