Cockpit upgrade STCs open floodgates

 - November 1, 2006, 8:53 AM

The scene at a recent aviation trade show illustrates perfectly what has become an industry-wide dilemma. An avionics sales representative had just finished giving a seasoned flight department manager a nearly hour-long sneak preview of his employer’s newest retrofit cockpit system. Hoping for positive feedback from the potential customer, the young sales rep must have been somewhat deflated by the flight department manager’s subdued response. “Looks good,” was all he said. “Call me when it’s certified.”

This type of reaction, a common one among aviation professionals who must make aircraft-related purchasing decisions, underscores an important point: while the latest gee-whiz technology is often of interest to buyers, such products are not of burning interest until the equipment has gained a TSO and the FAA has signed off on the needed STC for installation in a particular aircraft model. Otherwise, it’s just a pretty brochure and the electronic hum of test hardware behind a curtain.

Avionics manufacturers in the last few years have introduced or announced a number of retrofit avionics systems for business airplanes, each based on the latest glass display and microprocessor technology. Now that enough time has elapsed for avionics installers to gain the necessary installation approvals, buyers are taking keener interest in what sellers are offering. As a result, the retrofit cockpit segment of the avionics industry is starting to show renewed signs of life, installation shop managers report.

At press time there were four avionics manufacturers offering certified retrofit cockpit systems for business airplanes: Honeywell, Rockwell Collins, Universal Avionics and Chelton Flight Systems. Honeywell sells the Primus Epic CDS/R cockpit, a control- display version of the full Primus Epic system; Rockwell Collins has the IDS-3000 integrated display system; Universal Avionics offers the Vision 1 line of integrated avionics, the flagship product of which is the EFI-890R system; and Chelton sells the FlightLogic EFIS, noted for its synthetic-vision and GPS WAAS capabilities.

There is a long list of installers capable of retrofitting the available gear, but choosing which company to enlist for such a project is not easy. Perhaps the buyer’s biggest concern after overall cost of a complete cockpit retrofit is how long the airplane will be out of commission while the new avionics are being installed. With this renewed emphasis on getting in and out of the avionics shop quickly, it should come as no surprise that avionics installation facilities are seeking to streamline their operations.

The Glass Box Project

At last fall’s NBAA Convention in Las Vegas, Duncan Aviation announced “The Glass Box Project,” which the installer bills as “a complete course change from ‘business as usual’” in the growing LCD avionics retrofit market. According to Duncan’s own guidelines, the company is combining customer feedback, market research and “relentless product evaluation” to learn what customers want and need and which products best match their aircraft. At the center of the Duncan initiative are certification preplanning and improved production practices that the company claims will reduce the downtime required to perform major avionics retrofits.

“This is a fundamental shift in our approach to major avionics retrofit projects,” said Ron Hall, a sales representative for the Lincoln, Neb. company. “We have shifted from a tactical, reactive approach of scrambling to meet requests to a strategic approach that researches products, airframes and hull values before committing to investing in system certification.”

Kicking off the Glass Box Project, Duncan has identified a number of airframes and the corresponding avionics systems that company representatives have determined are most appropriate. They are: for the IAI Astra SP, the Rockwell Collins IDS-3000 system; for the Bombardier Challenger 600 and 601, Universal Avionics’ EFI-890R; for the Challenger 601-3A, Honeywell’s Primus Epic CDS/R; for Dassault Falcon 50s with Collins APS-85 autopilots, the IDS-3000 system; and for the Falcon 50 with Honeywell autopilots, the Primus Epic CDS/R package.

In addition, just last month Duncan and Honeywell announced they will team to certify Primus Epic CDS/R in the Falcon 900. The large-format displays will enable current Falcon 900 operators to access emerging communication, navigation and surveillance technologies just now being delivered on new airplanes, as well as graphical weather, en route maps and approach charts.

In the near future, expect a much stronger business relationship between Duncan and Universal, after the two companies announced last month that Duncan has been selected as the first–and only–authorized service center in the U.S. for Universal products. As part of the deal, Duncan has acquired Universal’s avionics test equipment and all related certificates and manuals, meaning the avionics installation specialist will be authorized to perform unit repairs at the circuit board level, including board exchanges, modifications, software updates and battery replacements for both warranty and non-warranty units.

Increased Demand

Several installers have been making headlines lately with news of upgrade programs and equipment STCs. The following is a rundown of recent developments at several facilities in the U.S.:

Premier Air Center recently completed ground and flight testing of a flight deck upgrade in a Falcon 20 that included four Universal EFI-890R flat-panel displays, leading to an STC awarded in March for the package. The approval marked the first EFI-890R upgrade STC for a Falcon 20 operator and the third STC for Premier Air Center, which last year gained approvals for the installation in the Beech King Air 350 and Challenger 601-3A.

The Falcon 20 EFI-890R installation and certification was conducted at Premier Air Center’s facility in East Alton, Ill., near St. Louis. The installation included dual Universal UNS-1F flight management systems, class-A TAWS, dual Vision 1 synthetic vision systems (still awaiting full certification) and UniLink messaging hardware. The displays are integrated with the Collins FCS-105 flight director/autopilot and J2 Aero air-data computers. Next up is the airplane’s RVSM approval, which is also being handled by Premier Air Center.

On December 31, the owners of Premier Air Center acquired West Star Aviation, a Grand Junction, Colo. company well known to business aviation operators, and in particular Learjet operators. Recently named a Citation service center, the company should benefit from its association with Premier Air Center as it further expands its avionics installation capabilities. West Star recently completed the 100th installation of its Learjet 30-series RVSM package and holds numerous avionics installation STCs.

Elliott Aviation, meanwhile, recently received an STC for installation in the Citation 550/560 of Universal’s flat-panel displays, Universal TAWS and Collins AHRS. The upgrade package allows operators to replace their standard electromechanical instruments or EFIS with Universal’s EFI-550 five-inch LCDs. Two-, three- or five-screen installations are available, according to Elliott. A Universal MFD-640 can be interfaced to operate with the existing Honeywell Primus radar systems most common in the Citation 550/560, the company added.

Universal TAWS, Vision 1 synthetic vision and a UNS-1L Super FMS have been included in the certification as options. A solid-state dual Collins AHRS system was also certified as a replacement option for the models’ aging vertical and directional gyros.

Temple Electronics, based at Houston Hobby Airport, has obtained the initial STC for a four-display upgrade of the Chelton FlightLogic EFIS in the Citation 501. FlightLogic in the Citation 501 consists of four displays (two for the pilot and two for the copilot), each measuring 6.25 inches wide and 5.5 inches high. Remote-mounted equipment includes an attitude and heading reference system (AHRS), air-data computer and GPS WAAS receiver. The system is RVSM-ready and comes standard with class-B TAWS.

Including the Citation 501 retrofit systems it has installed, Temple Electronics has completed more FlightLogic retrofits in business aircraft than any other firm. The other installations have been in King Airs, Piaggio Avantis and Twin Commanders.

Collins Shifts Gears

After initially introducing the Pro Line 21 Continuum retrofit avionics package, Rockwell Collins has retreated somewhat due primarily to slow sales of the package related to its high price. Garrett Aviation holds an STC for an avionics retrofit program for the Falcon 20 featuring the Pro Line 21 Continuum flight deck, and the system has been certified in a variety of business airplanes. Installation of the system in the Falcon 20 was completed at Garrett’s Springfield, Ill. facility and delivered to launch customer Cobalt Resources in March 2002. Garrett has completed other installations in Falcon 20s and 50s.

IDS-3000 includes active-matrix LCDs, sensors and software but not the high price of a complete Pro Line 21 Continuum cockpit upgrade. Continuum is a roughly $2 million retrofit that essentially gives buyers a completely new avionics suite and autopilot. For operators who want to upgrade only to modern glass displays, IDS-3000 is a better choice, said a Collins spokesman.

The initial market for the display retrofit has been Pro Line II airplanes equipped with Collins APS-85 autopilots. The launch application for IDS-3000 was in the Cessna Citation 500 series through an agreement with Garrett Aviation. Garrett has launched a Citation 501-series program incorporating IDS-3000 that includes two displays, RVSM-compliant air-data computer, WXR-800 weather radar, and the new integrated flight information system (IFIS), which allows pilots to call up navigation charts, weather data and other information on the displays.

Avanti Going Epic

TGAviation of Mount Hope, Ontario, is working on a Primus Epic CDS/R retrofit for the Piaggio Avanti, the company recently announced. The package will include two primary flight displays (pilot and copilot functional) and a single multifunction display and comes standard with FMZ-2000/CD-820 full Vnav FMS; DL-950 data loader; Mark V/VII/VIII enhanced ground proximity warning system; RVSM-certified AZ-960/950 air-data computers; Primus 880 weather radar; Primus II integrated radio system; and the LSZ-860 lightning sensor. The system will interface with the existing autopilot.

Optional items include Collins CAS 67 TCAS; Laseref inertial reference systems; GPS; MCS-7000 Aero-I and Aero-H+ satcom, Iridium-based Airsat 1 or Inmarsat-based SCS-100 satcom systems; AIS-100/2000 satellite television; runway awareness and advisory system.

Pentastar Aviation, meanwhile, has completed an installation of the Honeywell system in a GII at its modification center in Waterford, Mich. That installation included three DU-1080 displays, Primus II radios, EGPWS, SPZ-800 flight director/autopilot, L-3 TCAS 2000 and Goodrich’s GH3000 standby instrument system.