AEA Convention Report 2006

 - September 15, 2006, 11:31 AM

Avionics dealers were treated to sneak previews of the latest must-have airborne hardware at the Aircraft Electronics Association’s annual convention in late April, held at the Wyndham Palm Springs in (very) sunny Southern California.

Garmin made the biggest splash of the show, introducing the WAAS versions of the GNS 430 and GNS 530 GPS/navcoms. Designed to meet sole-means WAAS capabilities for Lnav, Vnav and LPV approaches (ILS-like 200-foot straight-in minimums) the units will carry list prices of $10,750 for the GNS 430w and $16,496 for the GNS 530w when they become available in the third quarter.

Garmin also touted its GMA 347 digital audio panel with automatic squelch, duplex telephone interface and audio replay feature (list price $2,395) and the new GMX 200 multifunction display, a replacement for the MX20 display originally developed by subsidiary Garmin AT. Price for the unit starts at $8,995.

Garmin salespeople at the show had good reason to be smiling. Although the Olathe, Kan. company’s aviation business grew just 4 percent in the first quarter (to about $57 million) total revenue in the period was up 67 percent to $322 million on the strong showing of Garmin’s automotive business. Revenue in the auto segment during the quarter increased an impressive 252 percent to $150 million– sending the electronics maker’s stock soaring last month to a record high above the $100 mark.

While Garmin reps were whistling in the aisles, other manufacturers were equally eager to show off their latest products and services. AirCell, on the eve of entering an FCC auction for a coveted slice of broadband air-to-ground frequency spectrum, announced a collaboration with EMS Satcom to link AirCell’s Axxess airborne communications system with EMS Satcom’s eNfusion HSD high-speed-data terminal.

Selected by Cessna as a factory option in the Citation X, XLS and Sovereign, Axxess provides in-cabin phone handsets (now with color displays) and two Iridium voice channels. Combining the $40,000 hardware package with an eNfusion HSD-128 or HSD-400 high-speed data terminal from EMS Satcom brings wireless Internet access to the passenger compartment over the Inmarsat Swift64 and (starting next year) SwiftBroadband services. AirCell gained the initial STC for Axxess in April and has started shipping hardware.

Antenna Announcements from EMS Satcom
EMS Satcom at the show announced it has delivered its 50th HSD-400 terminal (in the first seven months delivering the units), offering four channels of Swift64 service for a combined data rate of 256 kilobytes per second. When SwiftBroadband services are introduced, the data rate of the unit will increase to one megabyte per second. Combining the data terminal with one of EMS Satcom’s CNX network acceleration units will speed the connection further for true broadband connectivity aloft– if the aircraft operator doesn’t mind paying the hefty download fees for four simultaneously operating SwiftBroadband channels.

EMS Satcom’s news at the AEA Convention centered on antenna announcements. The company provided details of the AMT-3500 intermediate-gain antenna for smaller business jets, which is capable of providing data rates of about 350 kbps through SwiftBroadband. The company also said Bombardier has selected the eNfusion AMT-3800 high-gain antenna as a factory option on the Global Express XRS and Global 5000. Installed atop the fuselage, the low-profile antenna provides access to both Inmarsat Swift services as well as worldwide voice calling.

Kollsman of Merrimack, N.H., brought a mockup of the General Aviation Vision System (Gavis) the company announced at last fall’s NBAA Convention. Fitted in a unique teardrop fairing, the infrared microbolometer enhanced-vision system is des-
igned to present its 30-degree-wide view on any video-capable display. Grob plans to fit the Gavis camera in a fairing of its own design atop the nose of its SPn utility jet. Kollsman is currently installing the EVS in a Citation II it owns, but the Grob jet would be the first production airplane to offer Gavis as an option.

Kollsman also announced it is nearing certification of the EVS II camera system destined to replace first-generation equipment on large Gulfstreams and selected by FedEx for its fleet of widebodies. To date, more than 300 All Weather Window EVS hardware packages have arrived at Gulfstream’s plant in Savannah, Ga., for installation in the manufacturer’s globe-girdling jets. Mated to the Honeywell 2020 head-up display, the cryogenically cooled EVS is the key to special operating credits lowering landing minimums from 200 feet to 100 feet on straight-in approaches.

Aviation Communications & Surveillance Systems (ACSS), a joint L-3 Communications and Thales company, announced Cessna has selected the TCAS 2000 traffic alert and collision avoidance system as standard for the Citation X, XLS and Sovereign. Introduced in 1997 by Honeywell, TCAS 2000 was the industry’s first TCAS II. In 1999 when AlliedSignal and Honeywell merged, ACSS was formed to buy the divested product. Since then ACSS has introduced a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) for business jets and airliners and is working on development of other surveillance technologies. Its next-generation TCAS 3000 has been selected by Dassault for the Falcon 7X.

Honeywell announced a software upgrade kit for owners of GNS-XLS flight management systems that allows operators to take advantage of new operating standards for precision area navigation (PRnav) in Europe and terminal and en route Rnav in the U.S. Buyers can load the new software directly into the unit using a special kit, which the avionics maker said it will provide free to anyone who takes delivery of a new GNS-XLS FMS this year. Dealers and owners of older GNS-X units were offered special pricing on the new hardware providing an extra $3,000 off the promotional price.

Universal Avionics told dealers about an agreement with Canada’s CMC Electronics that will allow Universal to distribute CMC’s M-Series EVS. A week later at the EBACE trade show in Geneva, Universal president and CEO Ted Naimer and CMC Electronics president and CEO Jean-Pierre Mortreux signed the distributor agreement, announcing that the partnership between the companies would go much deeper in the coming months and years. The two plan to team in areas where they can leverage their largely complementary products to aid both. Naimer, however, emphasized that a merger is not on the horizon.

Cockpit Retrofits Announced
Sandel Avionics introduced two retrofit product lines at the 49th AEA Convention, including the LED-powered, four- by four-inch SN4500 electronic HSI and SA4500 electronic ADI, in addition to a series of directional gyro products, the SG101, SG102 and SG103. With their 180-degree viewing angles and high sunlight readability, the SN4500 and SA4500 serve as drop-in replacements for older electromechanical instruments. Both feature SandelSmart I/O to interface with most any digital or analog aircraft system. Retail pricing was announced as $19,500 for the SN4500 EHSI and $20,500 for the SA4500 EADI.

Meanwhile, Sandel’s new SG102 directional gyro is a solid-state unit that replaces the KG102 spinning gyro. Price is approximately $3,500, making it an excellent alternative to an overhauled unit, Sandel said. The SG101 offers XYZ, Arinc 429 and RS-232 outputs, and adds a new Sandel-designed sealed magnetometer for stabilized magnetic heading. The SG103 incorporates XYZ, Arinc 429 and RS-232 outputs while also offering compatibility with the KG102. Prices for the SG101 and SG103 are targeted to start at less than $4,000.

Revue Thommen, a new name in business aviation but a long-time instrument supplier for military aircraft, touted its AD20 two-inch standby digital altimeter, which the company said will evolve into a similarly pint-sized MD21 Mach/airspeed indicator. U.S. marketing director Ken Paul said Learjet has launched an STC program to bring the AD20 to the Learjet 40 and will follow that endeavor with programs for the Learjet 31, 45 and 60.

Chelton announced that its latest FliteLine CDM-451 DME will start shipping this month. The triple-channel scanning unit provides Arinc 429 outputs along with analog outputs for two displays. The CDM-451 transceiver is compatible with FMS auto-tune operation. The third output channel can also provide single DME output to the FMS for independent navigation. The product is part of Chelton’s next-generation navcom product line, designed to replace Series III radio acquired from Bendix/King in 1999.

Chelton Satcom introduced the HGA-7001 phased-array satcom antenna, which it billed as a light, low-cost alternative to competing antenna products. With its built-in antenna control unit and SwiftBroadband capability, Chelton hopes to entice operators of smaller business jets to install the fuselage-mount antenna. Chelton Satcom also makes the IGA-5000, -6000 and -7000 antennas and a 5-MCU high-speed-data satcom terminal.

Avidyne came to Palm Springs to talk about the traffic advisory systems (TAS) it has added to its portfolio with the recent acquisition of Ryan International. The avionics maker announced that the TAS600 is now approved for retrofit into airplanes with Garmin G1000 avionics. Providing TCAS-like traffic symbology and audible messages, the traffic alerters are designed with multiple antennas allowing them to scan for targets above and below. The TAS600 (7-nm range) lists for $9,990; the TAS610 (12-nm range) is $14,990; and the TAS620 (20-nm range) is $20,990. Avidyne also said Piper has selected the Entegra glass cockpit for the Seminole twin, bringing the avionics system to Piper’s complete line of 11 piston models.

Icarus Instruments introduced a steering assist module designed to bring GPSS roll-steering capability to any autopilot. Equipped with audible altitude and gear alerts, the unit is compatible with GPS receivers that provide roll steering input, including the Garmin GNS 430, GNS 530 and GNS 480 and Bendix/King KLN 90B.

Satellite Communications
Announcements related to the Iridium satellite communications service featured prominently at the show. Blue Sky Network, a provider of global satellite tracking and logistics, announced it has integrated its SkyRouter tracking system with Google Earth to provide users with detailed satellite images overlaid with 3-D views of an aircraft’s ground track. Users on the ground can track live flights, as well as examine past flights for detailed analysis. Position data is sent via the aircraft using an Iridium link.

International Communications Group (ICG) announced that it has been selected by Bombardier to provide ICG Iridium satcom systems as standard equipment in all new Challenger 605s. The airplanes will be fitted during completion with ICG’s ICS-200 dual-channel Iridium satellite phone systems providing global voice and data services.
The ICS-200 incorporates two Iridium transceivers with an internal cabin tele-communications unit providing a stand-alone communication system. ICG has
a long relationship as an OEM supplier of Iridium systems to Bombardier, the company said, noting that its hardware is standard across the Bombardier Challenger and Global lines.

Sky Connect introduced a mission-management unit for Iridium voice and text messaging from helicopters. The unit contains a small screen and rotary knob that is used to access pre-stored phone numbers and text messages. Pilots can also write free-form text and dial unique phone numbers, although the use of the rotary knob will likely make this something of a chore. However, the company pointed out, phone numbers can be sent from the ground via datalink and then dialed automatically by the pilot.

Wingspeed, another Iridium hardware supplier, introduced the XLLink Model L ($3,500) and Model H ($9,000). The Model L generates and sends messages containing aircraft GPS information to Wingspeed’s ground-based servers via the Iridium Network.

Wingspeed formats and routes the data via a secure Internet connection to customers’ operation centers. XLLink is integrated with Flight Explorer’s flight-tracking software in the customer’s operation center to manage and track aircraft. The next “step” in the XLLink product line is the XLLink System Model H. In addition to flight tracking, it offers voice calling capability and data services over Iridium.

Satellite Radio for Less
Flight Display Systems showed off a novel way of bringing XM or Sirius satellite radio content to the cabin using off-the-shelf components that can be picked up at a local Circuit City or Best Buy. The setup shown at AEA included a Comant antenna, a DAPS360-X splitter and four Delphi Roady2 XM receivers–the same inexpensive units that people have in their cars and homes. Cables are run from the splitter to the XM tuners, which are considered portable electronics and therefore do not need to be part of the STC. Price for the splitter from Flight Display Systems (FDS) is $1,895.

Flight Display Systems showed off a wide variety of slim cabin monitors, as did competitor Rosen. LCDs from 7 inches diagonal to 42 inches are available from FDS, while Rosen offers monitors ranging in size from 6.5 inches to 24 inches. Both also offer moving map displays and other cabin entertainment products.

Also notable at the show was the $1,995 PMA8000B audio panel from PS Engineering with front panel utility jack for plugging in cellphones, iPods or Garmin’s GPSmap 396 handheld GPS receiver with terrain alerts and XM audio capability. Avionics Innovations showed off its I.C.E. integrated cabin entertainment system with 7-inch LCD, CD player, Sirius satellite radio module, video amplifier and passenger control unit.

The company said an STC in the Pilatus PC-12 is pending. Finally, natSeattle showed off its latest cabin file server, the JetLAN AS250. The unit features a 1.44-gHz Pentium processor and weighs eight pounds.

More than 1,650 avionics shop managers and technicians converged on Palm Springs for the 49th annual AEA Convention & Trade Show April 20-22, which this year featured more than 140 exhibitors occupying 230 booth spaces. In addition to the show itself, the association offered more than 75 hours of training and a number of technical and regulatory workshops. Next year’s show, AEA’s 50th, is scheduled to be held in Reno, Nev., from March 28 to 31.