IS&S betting on glass-cockpit technology

 - October 2, 2006, 11:09 AM

The pressure is on for Exton, Pa.-based Innovative Solutions & Support (IS&S), but you would never know it from talking with company marketing executives.

After enjoying several back-to-back years of record sales and revenue in the run-up to reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) standards in North America, the small yet financially strong avionics firm faces tough questions about its future from stock market analysts who wonder whether the company can follow its early successes with something equally impressive.

Senior executives think they have just the thing to ease Wall Street’s worried mind.

The engineering staff at IS&S is currently involved in the design and testing of a line of integrated glass cockpits and related components intended for a wide range of retrofit applications, covering everything from cargo-hauling Boeing 767s to owner-flown business turboprops. That means pilots flying today with steam-gauge instruments and older EFIS equipment might soon find themselves strapped in behind large LCD panels from the same company that supplied the airplane’s RVSM upgrade kit.

IS&S cares what Wall Street thinks mainly because the publicly traded company has thus far been known as a leading supplier of low-cost RVSM gear. Now that the FAA’s RVSM mandate has come and gone, some financial analysts are asking whether IS&S’s early momentum may be losing speed.

Jerome Galant, a former stock analyst for Huberman Financial, said he has questions about whether IS&S can continue to grow at such an impressive pace in a post-RVSM world, but he added that an early glimpse of what IS&S is cooking up for the cockpit could be a harbinger of future financial success.

“I’m still somewhat skeptical about what the future holds for IS&S. After all, RVSM was such a cash cow for them. But we’ll see, they could have another winner with glass cockpits,” he said.

For the time being company officials are remaining tight-lipped about specifics for the business aviation market, but they confirm that such plans have already been put into motion.

Tom Edgell, vice president of business development for IS&S, said the business aircraft market will be a focus for the company as it seeks to introduce its retrofit cockpit into aircraft that will offer the best return on investment–in other words, those airplanes that will benefit most from cockpit upgrades and, just as important, that are flying in sufficient numbers to make a full-scale certification program worthwhile for the company.

“We’re making good progress on several fronts,” he said, “but there’s nothing that we want to announce just yet.”

Announcements, however, could be made in time for the NBAA Convention in New Orleans in November, or perhaps even sooner, depending on the outcome of discussions IS&S is holding with avionics installation facilities and OEMs.

Which business airplanes are likely to undergo front-end surgery first remains to be seen, but Edgell said the Beech King Air line and Falcon 50 are the two candidates at the forefront of talks at this stage. The King Air market, with more than 5,000 aircraft in service, is IS&S’s primary target in the business aviation market, Edgell said. The company has assembled a mock-up of a three-display cockpit for the King Air 350.

IS&S has obtained a TSO for its displays in Part 25 airplanes and is gaining experience through an agreement to outfit aging Boeing 767s with cargo airline ABX Air of Wilmington, Ohio. ABX Air will perform the installations of the displays using a “turnkey solution” the operator has developed that includes upgrade kits, labor, pilot training and technical manual updates. The retrofit will include four displays measuring 8 by 10 inches each.