As new ATC systems and increasingly sophisticated information options are introduced, more and more older airplanes are falling behind.
Consequently, many owners whose airframes have a lot of life left in them are looking at the many options for upgrading their old avionics panels. Most of the time that makes more sense than going out and buying a new airplane, even if one’s bank account will support such a move.
It isn’t just airplanes with panels full of round gauges that are eligible for upgrades, either. Many a glass panel less than a decade old can’t support the newest technologies. That’s particularly true if the glass consists of television-style cathode ray tubes, which is why some avionics manufacturers are offering lighter-weight, far more efficient flat panels as replacements, says Randy Cox of WestAir Aviation at Easton/Newman Field Airport in Maryland.
However, Cox points out, upgrades on that scale are more applicable to turboprops and business jets than to light singles. “It’s hard to fit a full glass cockpit into most singles,” he says, but they are what most of WestAir’s customers own.
Nonetheless, people spend a lot of money on single-engine avionics, a surprising number putting as much into a new panel as the airplane is worth.
“You can put $20,000 to $30,000 into avionics pretty quickly,” Cox states. A lot of that goes into Garmin 430 and 530 GPS/Nav/Comm packages, he says, combined with weather data link and options such as display of TFRs, winds aloft, METARs and the like. Transponders with Traffic Information capability also are increasingly popular among WestAir customers.
Although ADS-B hasn’t yet stirred much interest among Cox’s customers, “a lot of people buy the L3 Skywatch.” However, “when ADS-B is more available it will be the way to go — but you need an MFD. Getting an MFD into almost any single is a challenge,” he says.
“To do the kind of flying you want to do — IFR, precision approaches, precision GPS approaches — you have to be willing to spend the money,” he states.
One of his favorite examples is a Beechcraft Duke into which one customer put some $75,000 worth of new avionics. “It gave him a lot of capability,” Cox noted, with the emphasis on “a lot.”
On the other hand, he tells of a Piper Aztec currently being fitted with a two-axis autopilot with glide-slope coupling and altitude pre-select, upgrading the old airplane substantially but, at the same time, costing relatively little while giving the owner a lot of safety margin and making his flying more comfortable.
Upgrades to not-so-old glass cockpits also are becoming available, Cox points out. Honeywell’s older Primus and SPZ systems offer a case in point. Honeywell reckons that as many as 5,000 airplanes could use replacement of their CRT displays with modern liquid-crystal displays, and is offering LCD-based, multi-function cockpit displays with an open architecture from Belgian display specialist Barco. The displays upgrade Primus 1000, 2000, 2000XP, SPZ-8400, 8500 and SPZ-8000 avionics systems, “allowing us to integrate our latest avionics applications (into the older systems) while offering growth capabilities for future communication, navigation, surveillance and Air Traffic Management functionality,” as Honeywell’s Chad Cundiff put it.
That comment about future capabilities is the key. WAAS, ADS-B, SVS, EVS, LPV, RNP, AHRS, ADAHRS, GPS and a slew of other acronyms are replacing, or are scheduled to replace, more familiar acronyms such as VOR, DME, NDB and even Radar (to some extent), promising significantly greater safety, far less reliance on ATC, even the ability to see in the dark. Think Max-Viz and Forward-Vision if you’re flying something less than a Gulfstream or BBJ, as most of us are, but feel the need for an enhanced vision system.
Planning a panel upgrade without the capability for integrating future technologies would be short-sighted at best, we are told by avionics authorities. That is particularly true of ADS-B, which is the foundation for the FAA’s Next Generation Air Traffic Control System and sooner or later will be required for access to Classes B, C and D airspace, like it or not. FAA radar stations, VOR and NDB will vanish. With more than 200 ADS-B stations scheduled to come on line within a few years and some already fully functional, it is a technology that most of us can’t, or shouldn’t, ignore.
WAAS — the Wide Area Augmentation System — already is operational and providing outstanding service to WAAS-enabled GPS systems, which yield an accuracy of roughly 10 feet laterally and 15 feet vertically, comparable to a well-tuned ILS.
That leads us to the LPV acronym — Lateral Precision with Vertical guidance, using the accuracy of WAAS to provide precise alignment with runway centerlines, and glide-slope advice for a smooth descent. While it looks like an ILS approach to the pilot, it is operating at hundreds of airports now, and scheduled for thousands more, where you’ll never see ILS.
If that isn’t a great incentive to include WAAS capability in any upgrade, I don’t know what is.
Then there are Synthetic Vision Systems (SVS) and Enhanced Vision Systems (EVS).
Let’s look at SVS first and take the Universal Avionics system as an example.
Last October, Universal was granted an STC to add SVS to its Primary Flight Displays and Electronic Attitude Displays. The company describes its Vision-1 “egocentric” view as “a computer generated rendering of the terrain ahead” while its “exocentric” view “shows the aircraft’s flight plan and upcoming terrain as seen from a wingman positioned behind, above and to the right of the pilot’s aircraft.” The egocentric view is displayed on the PFD and EADI, using standard foreground symbology with traditional flight director cues but replacing the blue/brown background with heading, pitch and roll oriented color terrain imagery in real time. The exocentric view is displayed on the Navigation Display. Just from the terminology you can understand that Universal’s is a system for multi-engine turboprops and jets, however, and not for everyday singles.
On the other hand, there are much less expensive Enhanced Vision Systems, such as those from Max-Viz and Forward-Vision, which use infrared sensors to generate a view ahead, through fog and clouds and in the dark. The Forward-Vision system also works in bright sunlight, enhancing safety remarkably in any see-and-be-seen environment. High terrain and tall obstacles stand out, as does traffic ahead, both in the air and on the ground. Even runway markers show up clearly enough to read on a dark night, a great help on unfamiliar airports.
Max-Viz systems require an STC for installation and are applicable mainly to turboprops and small jets such as the Citation line. The Forward-Vision system needs no STC. It does not become part of the airplane but, rather, can be attached or removed at will. As a result of that and its unique technology, it is vastly cheaper than STCd systems.
If you own an airplane with a lot of life remaining but need current technology avionics, there are a lot of options out there. We have presented some of the more enticing, here, but wandering through the Internet world will reveal a lot more.
Our advice is to take that trip.