Aircraft Electronics Association Convention 2007

 - April 30, 2007, 6:43 AM

While FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and GA industry leaders wrangled over aviation user fees and taxes at the Aircraft Electronics Association’s 50th annual convention, avionics makers and dealers got down to the business of discussing new products and market opportunities. As much a “networking” event as a product showcase, the show, and especially the exhibit hall inside Reno’s Grand Sierra hotel and casino, was a hive of activity as attendees and exhibitors crisscrossed the aisles to renew old acquaintances and forge new ones.

It doesn’t get much newer than TrueNorth Avionics, a freshly formed Canadian company that introduced its first product line at the AEA show. TrueNorth’s Simphoné (pronounced “symphony”) line of satcom products includes three versions (Solo, Duo and Chorus) with increasing levels of functionality built into each. The basic Solo unit includes interfaces for standard Iridium and Inmarsat satcom systems, while the Duo adds a dual-channel Iridium transceiver and, finally, the Chorus product includes the Iridium transceiver as well as integrated Wi-Fi, data routing and firewall functionality. Alto is the trade name for TrueNorth’s cabin handsets. Founded by former EMS Satcom executive Mark van Burkel, the company is based in Ottawa.

Another relative newcomer, Aspen Avionics exhibited at the AEA Convention again this year, but it only hinted at new products on its drawing board. For now, Aspen is a one-trick pony, selling just the AT300 color moving-map display with integrated digital vertical-speed indicator. Aspen recently settled a patent dispute brought by Eclipse Aviation over ownership rights of the product (Aspen was founded by two former Eclipse employees) and named avionics industry veteran John Uczekaj as its president. The company is vowing to become an important player in the avionics industry, so it should be interesting to keep tabs on Albuquerque, N.M.-based Aspen in the months ahead.

What stood out most at this year’s show was the sheer number of relatively small suppliers that have suddenly grown into major forces within the industry. One example of a company that started out small and has become quite large is AirCell, the owner of an important segment of air-to-ground frequency spectrum that will allow it to offer aeronautical broadband data services starting early next year. AirCell has opened a sales and operations center outside Chicago and continues to plow ahead with the planned deployment of some 80 ground towers across the U.S. to
support the service.  

Full coast-to-coast coverage above 10,000 feet agl is the goal with the initial rollout of the broadband service and supporting AirCell Axxess hardware. Service over Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean is planned to follow. The system is designed to hand off users automatically from one ground station to the next, thereby providing seamless coverage at “DSL-like” data speeds. AirCell has so far been unable to attract any airline customers, but deals are said to be close.

Also fitting the description of a small player that has enjoyed rapid growth, Flight Display Systems of Alpharetta, Ga., has launched more products in the last few years than there is space to write about. One of its most talked-about offerings– satellite tv for less than $100,000–is said to be nearing the certification finish line pending one more test flight with the FAA. The most impressive new products at the Flight Display Systems AEA exhibit stand were the “Flipper,” a $5,000 five-inch cockpit display that folds out of the way when not in use, and a new 24-inch high-definition monitor for the cabin priced at around $11,000. Rosen also introduced a 24-inch HD monitor at the show. Both introductions were welcome news for business jet operators seeking to install Bluray disc or HD-DVD players in the cabin.

Cockpit, Cabin Products Share Stage

Garmin has delayed the introduction of its G600 retrofit cockpit for light piston singles and faced some technical issues related to the G1000 cockpit in the Cessna Citation Mustang, but that didn’t stop its AEA exhibit booth from being one of the busiest at the show. Besides the usual complement of GNS-series avionics units and the eye-popping GPSMap 496 handheld GPS receiver, Garmin touted its GMX200 multifunction display, the former UPSAT MX20 unit, for its big 6.5-inch-diagonal LCD screen and interfaces to electronic charts, XM weather, traffic and TAWS.  

Cabin lighting specialist Emteq gave a sneak peek at a decidedly different kind of product–special heating elements that are installed beneath leather cabin seats for added warmth. Similar in size and function to aftermarket seat heaters sold in the automotive and marine markets, the Emteq heaters use thin pads that lie on the seat foam and route their wiring beneath the seat out of sight. Passengers can select various heat settings at the push of a button, according to Emteq, which announced that the first applications for the retrofit product will be in the King Air line.

Universal Avionics, meanwhile, introduced its line of WAAS-capable flight management systems for business and regional jets. Called the UNS-1Lw, UNS-1Ew, UNS-1Espw and UNS-1Fw, the units are approved for normal en route operations, including oceanic navigation and approaches that include Lnav/Vnav (lateral navigation with vertical guidance) and LPV (localizer performance with vertical guidance) components. According to the company, the FMS receivers incorporate anti-jamming capabilities in the RF (radio frequency) hardware and all-in-view tracking of up to 12 satellites with a loss-of-lock re-acquisition time of less than three seconds.

In Other News

Fresh off the announcement by Eclipse Aviation that the companies will supply key components of the Avio NG avionics system for the Eclipse 500, Innovative Solutions & Support and Chelton Flight Systems were asked plenty of questions yet had few firm answers about their involvement with the program. Eclipse has said the new generation of avionics replacing Avidyne equipment in its VLJ will be ready next month, but even the new suppliers signaled that timetable may be overly optimistic.
At the show, IS&S and Chelton each touted their retrofit glass cockpit, now beginning to appear in a wider range of business aircraft. IS&S has certified a version of its cockpit in the Pilatus PC-12, while Chelton has been making inroads in the Cessna Citation market and for helicopter panel upgrades.

Shadin Avionics, the maker of air-data computers, engine-trend monitors, fuel-flow systems and other instruments, held its first ever dealer appreciation party at an AEA event, hosting a gathering at the famous Harrah’s auto museum. The company had good reason to celebrate: Shadin notched a purchase order from EADS Socata for 800 of its 8800-T altitude encoders. Robert Randall, executive director of sales and marketing for Shadin in St. Louis Park, Minn., said the 8800-T is designed to provide data directly to the transponder and Garmin or Trimble GPS receivers through an RS-232 serial data port, making for a simplified installation.

Iridium satcom maker International Communications Group announced at the show that the FAA has granted the company parts manufacturer approval to produce and install satcom systems in the Gulfstream G150. Through an agreement with Gulfstream, ICG has established inspection processes that conform to FAA-approved design data, the company said. The PMA covers the ICS-200 satcom incorporating dual Iridium transceivers with an internal CTU that connects through a single coax and Iridium antenna.

Held March 29-31, the AEA Convention played host to 1,718 attendees and 141 exhibiting companies occupying some 70,000 sq ft of booth space inside the newly remodeled Grand Sierra hotel. The convention was noteworthy not only for the array of new products making debuts, but also for controversial comments made by the FAA’s Blakey before the show even opened. In a speech dominated by talk of aviation user fees, Blakey told a skeptical audience that the nearly 50-cent-a-gallon fuel tax increase the agency is promoting would have little impact on general aviation aircraft owners and operators. Her comments provided ample fodder for an AEA-hosted session the following day that took aim at user fees, describing them as a good idea for the airlines, but a bad deal for GA.

Mitchell Receives AEA Lifetime Achievement Award

Monte Mitchell, the influential past president of the Aircraft Electronics Association, received the group’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the AEA annual convention’s opening session on March 29. Presented by current association president Paula Derks (who is also Mitchell’s daughter), the honor recognizes the retired executive’s 40 years of service in the general aviation industry and his role in the growth of the association over a span of nearly two decades.

Mitchell’s aviation career began in 1956 when he joined Wilcox Electric, a manufacturer of transponders. He left Wilcox in the 1970s to work for Bonzer, marketing the company’s radar altimeters. In 1977 Mitchell was recruited for the position of executive director of AEA, a new title that made him the group’s first paid employee. Until that time the association had been run by an all-volunteer staff.

Mitchell went on to serve as AEA president until retiring in 1996, in that time tripling the size of the membership and overseeing the editorial expansion of the group’s monthly magazine, Avionics News. Both of Mitchell’s daughters continue in their father’s footsteps at AEA today; Derks as president and her sister, Debra McFarland, as vice president of administration.

Mitchell also led the establishment of the AEA Educational Foundation, which promotes careers in aviation maintenance. AEA announced the names of 30 individuals who were awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships for the 2007/2008 academic year through the foundation.

This year, three new companies joined the AEA Educational Foundation in offering scholarships, with each sponsoring $1,000 awards. The new sponsors included Duncan Aviation, Rockwell Collins and Southeast Aerospace. AOPA came on board as a sponsor last year.