Thales shifts focus to retrofit market

 - November 28, 2007, 10:36 AM

After spending the last several years struggling to make inroads into the business aviation market, particularly in North America against the likes of Honeywell and Rockwell Collins, Thales Aerospace has decided to hone its approach by targeting its products not only to large business jet OEMs but also directly to business jet operators.

“Our focus until now [in the business aviation market] has been on the OEMs,” Ed Senen, Thales vice president and general manager for aerospace services worldwide, told AIN in an interview in September before the start of the NBAA Convention. “Now we are trying to deal more directly with the operators.” The avionics and flight controls group has maintained a relatively low profile in this segment of aviation in comparison to rivals. Now, a number of retrofit products handpicked from the Thales portfolio are aimed at changing that.

One of the items made available for retrofit is Thales’ LCD-based head-up display (HUD), which the company said offers increased refresh rates for updating the information shown on the screen as well as a clearer display. Thales also hopes to penetrate the business aviation market with its TopFlight satellite communications terminal. The satcom unit meets the Arinc 781 standard and can fulfill other air/ground communications needs, including ATC exchanges and weather downloads. The box weighs less than 25 pounds and includes a 30-watt high-power amplifier.

Thales is also offering its latest integrated standby instruments for retrofit. The LCD units combine various electromechanical displays in one screen, saving space and promising greater reliability. Embraer recently selected the equipment for the cockpits of its Phenom 100 very light jet and 300 light jet, and Pilatus chose the units as an upgrade for the PC-12. The final new retrofit offering from Thales is an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) that meets the new ICAO requirement for aircraft certified to carry 19 or more passengers. According to Senen, growing numbers of operators are seeing the safety case for ELTs, even if their aircraft are smaller than those covered by the ICAO mandate.

If Thales is serious about targeting the avionics retrofit market, the company will need to do a better job of supporting customers. Thales finished in last place in AIN’s 2007 avionics product support survey, which asked readers to rate their experiences in categories ranging from warranty support to parts pricing. In explaining its low ranking, the company said Thales personnel almost never interact with business aircraft operators. “In the business jet market, Thales does not deal directly with the end user,” a spokeswoman wrote in a recent e-mail to AIN. “Our contracts are with the OEMs who provide the service and support.” It’s unclear, based on the company’s lofty ambitions for the retrofit market, whether that practice is likely to change.