Avidyne gains a second STC for Alliant upgrade

 - March 27, 2007, 12:51 PM

Now that Avidyne’s relationship with Eclipse Aviation has ended, the Massachusetts avionics supplier says it’s ready to move on to other projects. For the time being that means targeting the expanding retrofit cockpit market, specifically for aging King Airs where older analog instruments are being removed in favor of modern glass displays.

In partnership with autopilot maker S-Tec, Avidyne’s Alliant avionics package for the King Air 200 and 90 series serves as a replacement for many of the airplanes’ original analog gauges, bringing integrated glass displays, digital automatic flight controls, modern air-data computers and additional capabilities to the venerable turboprop’s flight deck.

“The King Air is really a sweet spot in the market,” said Mark Sandeen, vice president of sales and marketing for Avidyne. “In addition to the glass, a lot of operators are looking for a place to put XM satellite weather and electronic charts. For them, a retrofit like this really starts making a lot of sense.”

Besides updating the look of the cockpit, Sandeen said Alliant offers practical benefits–chief among them an average weight saving of around 150 pounds thanks to the displays, which include not only the liquid-crystal glass but also the electronic brains of the system and links to a high-speed communications databus.

Early on in the development of the Eclipse 500 Avidyne was selected to supply displays and software for the very light jet, but alleged integration problems forced a dissolution of the relationship last month. While Avidyne was obviously disappointed with the outcome of that partnership, by no means is the company worried about its future, Sandeen indicated.

Avidyne Entegra cockpit equipment is offered aboard a variety of popular new piston and turboprop singles, from the Cirrus SR22 and Columbia 400 to the Piper Meridian, and accounts for a sizable portion of the GA glass-panel market. The company’s move into the retrofit cockpit market–in the piston arena with the Envision avionics system and the King Air series with Alliant–has the potential to expand Avidyne equipment into thousands more airplanes, Sandeen said.

The market for the King Air 200 alone is thought to include about 800 “potential” aircraft, while future upgrades of light piston singles represent a far larger number than that. Avidyne competes in the GA cockpit retrofit market primarily with Garmin, but other players include Chelton Flight Systems, Innovative Solutions & Support and Universal Avionics.

While panel retrofits are relatively new territory for Avidyne, the market has the potential to add substantially to the company’s bottom line considering that the price for upgraded avionics, engine overhauls and fresh paint still total far less than the cost of a new airplane. Many King Air owners have been asking for avionics retrofit options, and that is precisely the reason why the airplane was chosen, according to Sandeen.

The quoted list price for Alliant hardware is around $170,000, plus $60,000 to $80,000 for the installation, which requires downtime of around two months, he said. For that price buyers receive two 10.4-inch-diagonal EXP5000 primary flight displays, dual integrated air-data/attitude heading reference systems (ADAHRS), a 5.5-inch-diagonal EX500 multifunction display (with optional XM weather and CMax aeronautical chart capabilities), S-Tec’s Intelliflight 2100 autopilot and a Mid-Continent two-inch standby instrument.

Not included in the purchase price are the radios, typically consisting of a pair of Garmin GNS 430 or 530 GPS/navcoms. Additional optional equipment includes an XM weather receiver and antenna, TAWS and WX-500 Stormscope.

The Alliant panel integrates the functionality of the existing weather radar and traffic sensor and offers enhanced redundancy by using a cross-compare databus to monitor data from each ADAHRS, installed in the display unit directly behind the LCD. The cross-compare system evaluates data from each ADAHRS
up to 30 times per second and issues warnings for discrepancies in airspeed, localizer/glideslope, roll/pitch, heading and altitude.

Retrofit Projects
Avidyne and S-Tec bought a 1980 King Air 200 and began installing the Avidyne primary flight displays and multifunction display and S-Tec autopilot last May, finishing in time to bring the upgraded airplane to the NBAA Convention in Orlando
in October, where the partners noted they had gained an STC for the package. Last month they notched another certification, announcing the STC for the Alliant panel in the King Air E90 and C90 after the cockpit was fitted in a 1976 E90 owned by Standridge Color, a Georgia company that provides custom colorants for plastics manufacturers.

“Our King Air 90s had autopilot problems,” said Bob Standridge, the company’s founder. “So we figured that if we were going to keep flying them, we needed to upgrade them.” Standridge operates two King Air E90s and a King Air 350. The first installation of the Alliant gear was performed at S-Tec’s headquarters in Mineral Wells, Texas, but future installations can be done at any Alliant dealer, nearly 30 of which have been approved worldwide. (For a complete list of Alliant dealers, visit www.alliantkingair.com–Ed.)

Avidyne and S-Tec decided to leave the King Air’s analog engine instrumentation intact, reasoning that the added expense of including it in the digital package would deter some buyers. Similar thinking was used in the decision not to offer options for a GPS receiver or navcom radios. Research showed that most King Air owners have already added the popular Garmin GNS units.

The autopilot, meanwhile, is the same basic system that flies in the Piper Meridian, with features and controls designed specifically for professional crews. A two-year warranty covers all major systems, an important incentive considering that replacing older analog instruments is becoming harder to do as original suppliers stop supporting legacy equipment.

So far only a handful of King Airs have entered the pipeline to receive the Alliant upgrade, but Sandeen said he anticipates activity will pick up significantly in the coming months. “We’re just getting started,” he said, adding that interest is increasing as the word about Alliant spreads. Besides one-off King Air owners, there are also a number of fleet operators who have indicated an interest in updating their aircraft, he said.