By Bill Forbes - Director of Avionics Sales for Elliott Aviation
Now that 2020 is here, the ADS-B mandate is in effect for controlled airspace in the US. Originally announced in 2010 by the FAA, ADS-B was created to increase safety by improving situational awareness while reducing separation minimums to create a more efficient aircraft traffic flow.
While the FAA has estimated over 100,000 aircraft were affected by this mandate, and most have been equipped with a solution, many aircraft continue to face avionics parts obsolescence issues.
Avionics Obsolescence: Why Does it Happen?
Avionics and engines can limit the life of an aircraft due to the financial cost of sustaining them. Many of the components that make up an avionics system are initially developed from technologies driven by consumer electronics.
As consumer electronics evolve to become more reliable and have more features, avionics systems are also constantly evolving, rendering certain components obsolete. A good example is the popularity of cathode ray tube (CRT) displays that were installed in nearly every airplane produced from the 1980s through the mid-2000s.
With the introduction of flat panel displays, factories that once produced CRTs faced a significantly diminished demand, mostly driven by consumer electronics. This demand shift not only rendered the technology obsolete in the consumer electronics market but in the aviation market too.
Now, with these displays manufactured in very limited quantities (lessening availability and increasing their cost), an aircraft operator’s only options to replace CRT displays is to find a suitable used replacement or to upgrade their system.
What are the Latest Avionics Upgrades?
While most newly built aircraft are equipped with some of the latest avionics packages at the time they’re built, there are many excellent retrofit solutions for thousands of popular aircraft today.
These range from updates to a current system to complete retrofits that include a new autopilot, new transponders, new flight management systems, and new displays. Among the leading solutions are the following…
Garmin G1000 NXi: For thousands of airplanes, including the Beechcraft King Air C90, B200, 300, 350, Embraer Phenom 100 (and soon the 300), Cessna Citation Mustang, and Daher TBM 850 and 900, the Garmin G1000 NXi is the most modern solution available.
The G1000 NXi is available both for qualifying aircraft that do not have a G1000 system and as an upgrade to legacy Garmin G1000 systems. It offers many features over the standard G1000, such as SurfaceWatch Runway Monitoring, optional cockpit connectivity, MFD display (like in the HSI on the PFD), improved map performance, and many more upgrades.
Garmin G5000: This retrofit is available for the Beechjet 400A/Hawker 400XP and the Citation Excel/XLS. The G5000 integrates a new autopilot, charts, WAAS/LPV, touchscreen controllers, and many more features, including optional synthetic vision, turbulence detection.
Pro Line 21 Modernization: An upgrade to a large segment of aircraft currently equipped with Pro Line 21 avionics systems, this package includes qualifying Hawker models, Beechcraft King Airs, and Premiers. It allows for synthetic vision, electronic charts, graphical weather, and WAAS/LPV.
What’s the Future of Avionics Upgrades?
Avionics manufacturers are constantly looking at ways to improve flight. Whether it’s enhancing safety, improving efficiency, decreasing pilot workload, or a better passenger experience, avionics will always evolve to create a better way to fly.
A case in point is Garmin’s revolutionary new Autoland feature in the Piper M600 SLS, which automatically finds an optimal destination and successfully lands the airplane when engaged.
We can be sure that the next decade will see more availability of safety and performance upgrades, including Auto-Throttles, CPDLC (Controller Pilot Datalink Communications), LPV Approaches, Taxi, and Runway Awareness, Flight Recorders, Data Tracking, and Trend Monitoring.
So, as operators inevitably face avionics parts obsolescence issues as their installed equipment ages, there is much hope that truly innovative retrofit solutions will continue to emerge in the marketplace to alleviate the problem.