Through the first six months of 2018, global spending on reported sales of aviation electronics to business and general aviation aircraft owners and operators is up 18% compared to the same period a year ago. The increase in demand is being driven by airspace mandates, connectivity and an explosion in the availability of new communications, navigation and surveillance technologies being certified for in-service Part 23 and Part 25 aircraft.
What’s the Business Case?
“Whether its ground-based or satellite, there is big demand right now for connectivity. You can’t charter an airplane today if you don’t have internet capability. It’s not marketable anymore,” said Dave Jensen, VP of aircraft maintenance at ACI Jet, a California-based operator of 12 business jets and provider of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services.
Jensen’s perspective and ACI Jet’s 2018 aftermarket activity represents a major trend occurring within the aftermarket upgrading of turboprops, and single- and twin-engine aircraft over the past year. For example, in May 2018 the company upgraded its Challenger 604 with a new communications management unit, flight management system with WAAS/LPV, and an aircraft information management system from Rockwell Collins. The upgrade also included an Iridium datalink unit from Satcom Direct and a new L3 Communications cockpit voice recorder capable of recording datalink messages.
The upgrade was performed in an effort to become compliant with global flight information region (FIR) mandates that require FANS 1/A, particularly along the congested North Atlantic Organized Track System (NAT-OTS). FANS technology is a form of controller-to-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) that uses the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) network for air traffic controller-to-pilot text messaging. Historically, FANS was designated for use within oceanic airspace. However, the FAA in the U.S. has upgraded its air traffic system to facilitate automated departure clearance (DCL) between aircraft and air traffic controllers. This program takes advantage of FANS 1/A to provide DCL over CPDLC at 62 airports and is currently being tested for use in high-altitude airspace at three en-route air traffic control centers in the U.S.
Europe is using protected-mode CPDLC (PM CPDLC) or Link 2000+, which is similar to FANS. Link 2000+ is a form of pilot-to-controller datalink communications that uses the Aeronautical Telecommunication Network (ATN), leveraging some VHF data capabilities to provide improved data integrity. After originally mandating PM CPDLC equipage for aircraft flying above 28,000 feet by Feb. 5, 2015, the European Commission delayed that mandate until 2020.
The business case for an investment in FANS 1/A is a no-brainer for operators of mid- to large-size cabin business jets. Outside of mandates like FANS 1/A and ADS-B, other factors are driving aftermarket avionics upgrades.
“On the aircraft capability side, a lot of the cathode ray tube (CRT) displays are sun-setting and not being supported by vendors anymore. Rockwell Collins, Honeywell, Universal and Garmin are offering significant incentives to upgrade to LCDs. The trade-in incentives they’re offering will not be there forever, as they subset these old avionics and displays, the incentives will get smaller and smaller,” said Jensen.
A $760 Million Aftermarket
According to the latest Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) quarterly market report, reported sales of business and general aviation electronics totaled $760 million in the first half of 2018. That’s an 18% increase compared to the same period in 2017, a year in which annual sales of business and GA avionics soared by 20%.
Increased spending has also resulted from a major expansion in the amount of functionality available in today’s avionics aftermarket. Electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) upgrades are among the most common upgrades occurring right now. New EFIS upgrades bring digital mapping and more advanced displays of an aircraft’s flight environment.
BendixKing’s AeroVue Touch is the type of upgrade Part 23 operators crave. The single-box primary flight display (PFD) upgrade recently achieved an approved model list (AML) supplemental type certificate (STC) for 353 different aircraft types. AeroVue Touch features a 10.1-inch touchscreen and a “near-4K” high-resolution display with 2D and 3D moving maps and taxi diagrams. The display can be used as a full-screen PFD or as a split screen with a multifunction display.
Operators are also showing sustained interest for complete flight deck overhauls, especially on the King Air, a popular aircraft in business aviation with a plethora of aftermarket full flight deck upgrade options, the most recent of which was certification of the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion cockpit by the the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The package includes ADS-B Out-compliant transponders, SBAS-GNSS, LPV, synthetic vision and the same icon-based touchscreen technology found on new-production King Airs.
Garmin’s G1000 is in demand for King Airs, said Phil Stearns, director of sales at Stevens Aviation, a business and GA MRO provider with bases in Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee.
“We probably do a King Air G1000 at least twice a month,” said Stearns, referring to the company’s Dayton, Ohio, location.
But similar to Jensen at ACI Jet, Sterns said connectivity is the biggest non-mandated equipage trend Stevens is seeing from customers.
“Connectivity is where we’re going. Ranging from the King Air up to legacy Gulfstreams, its not so much [in-flight entertainment], it’s just the internet connectivity portion. We’re seeing a ton of that going on,” said Sterns. “There’s also lot more interest with respect to the security of aircraft data. That has been coming up in discussions with customers a lot more over the last six to eight months.”
On the avionics manufacturing side, some OEMs are finally starting to see the results of the FAA’s relaxation of certification standards for Part 23 aircraft. In September 2017, the agency’s overhauling of airworthiness standards for general aviation aircraft became effective. That includes the approval of non-technical standard order (TSO) autopilots for Part 23 aircraft. That aspect has opened up more aftermarket opportunities in Part 23 aircraft for companies like Dynon Avionics, and its integrated two-axis autopilot also gets approval for IFR-approach capability when SkyView is integrated with a compatible GPS navigator. Competitors to Dynon in the autopilot market include companies such as Genesys Aerosystems, which supplies digital autopilot upgrades for Part 23 aircraft.
“We have noticed an influx of non-ADS-B new avionics coming to market over the last 12 months, some of which are TSO’d products as well non-TSO’d products for certified aircraft. These products include EFIS displays for general aviation, electronic [horizontal situation indicator] and attitude indicators as well as autopilots,” said Roger Smith, CEO and co-founder of Genesys Aerosystems. Despite the demand, “there is still a struggle for a buyer to spend if they haven’t installed ADS-B,” he added.
The company has seen growing interest within its IDU-680 EFIS and sensors, which are specifically targeted for OEMs that manufacture special missions aircraft. The IDU-680 is a 3D synthetic vision EFIS that has an STC in four classes of aircraft, ranging from Part 23 fixed wing to Part 29 rotary wing. It features geo-referenced hover vectors in helicopter configurations as well as a graphical flight management system.
But, Smith said, any cockpit upgrade right now that doesn’t include ADS-B is a tough sell.
“If you speak with installation centers, most will indicate their shops are full with ADS-B installations, and they are booked out three to six months with ADS-B installs. Some of these installs also include other new avionics, but a significant number do not,” said Smith. “This is actually problematic for non-ADS-B manufacturers as we fight for time at the install shops and money of the consumer.” Smith noted Genesys wants to use the next NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition as an opportunity to expand his company’s penetration into the Part 25 autopilot aftermarket space.
At the higher end of the Part 25 market with both legacy twin-aisle business jets and new in-production aircraft such as the Pilatus PC-24, there is growing interest in the use of satellite voice communications, or SATVOICE, as the FAA has officially coined it. SATVOICE is the use of satellite voice communications as a supplemental or alternative technology to high-frequency (HF) voice communications. The FAA Performance Based Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee Communications Working Group (PARC CWG) Satellite Voice Tiger Team conducted an operational evaluation of SATVOICE from September 2014 to April 2015, encompassing three FIRs: Oakland Oceanic, New York and Gander, according to a report on the project published in May.
That project lead to the PARC’s determination that SATVOICE communications with those aeronautical radio stations meets the Required Communication Performance 400 (RCP400) specification as defined in ICAO’s Performance-Based Communication and Surveillance Manual.
What that means for aircraft operators is they can replace one of their HF radios with SATVOICE equipment. The Pilatus PC-24, which earned type certification in the U.S. and Europe last year, features SATVOICE using the SkyNode S200 Iridium-based satellite communications system from Canadian avionics OEM Latitude Technologies.
“The civil aviation authorities have accepted it as an alternative to a secondary HF system,” said Mark Insley, CEO of Latitude Technologies.
Insley, whose company also provides avionics for commercial airliners, military and special missions aircraft said he sees similarities across the three verticals.
“The similarity between all these markets, air transport, and business and GA, we find all the operators want reliable and timely communication. Between the telematics of flight data monitoring for [flight operational quality assurance] and engine parameters for maintenance, there are more similarities than one would think,” said Insley. AVS