Amid setbacks, Avidyne tries to get back on track

 - February 27, 2008, 5:10 AM

Avidyne is close to launching components for a next-generation integrated avionics system that the company is hinting will feature ultra-high-resolution glass displays, WAAS GPS receiver, flight management system and the company’s recently TSO’d navcom radios. The first components for the new cockpit could make their debuts as early as next month at Sun ’n’ Fun in Lakeland, Fla., or at the Aircraft Electronics Association Convention in Washington, D.C.

Referred to by one industry insider as “Entegra Plus,” the updated Avidyne avionics are arriving on the scene at a time when the company is facing growing competition not only from familiar market rivals but also a crop of confident upstarts. Avidyne finds itself waging fierce turf fights against the likes of Garmin, Innovative Solutions & Support, L-3 Avionics Systems, Chelton Flight Systems and others. For the time being company officials are staying tight-lipped about product introductions just around the corner, but they promise the announcements will be worth the wait.

Still, Avidyne acknowledges that its position as a glass cockpit market leader is being challenged by the increasingly crowded field of manufacturers, as well as by a number of recent setbacks that have befallen the 14-year-old company. Avidyne’s fallout with Eclipse Aviation last year over the Avio cockpit in the Eclipse 500 has been well documented, but the Lincoln, Mass. company has lost ground on other fronts as well.

Garmin has surpassed Avidyne in the light piston market thanks to dominant positions with several OEMs. Last fall, L-3 Avionics Systems won the competition to supply the cockpit for a single-engine personal jet under development by Cirrus. L-3 has been testing its SmartDeck cockpit aboard a number of Cirrus SR22s as part of its agreement with Cirrus, which could spell more bad news for Avidyne if Cirrus decides to bring the L-3 system down to its piston line, where Avidyne avionics are standard. And more recently Adam Aircraft suspended operations in the face of financial troubles. Avidyne developed the cockpit for the company’s A700 very light jet.

Still, despite the hurdles it has faced Avidyne has a strategy for winning back market share beginning with a push in the glass retrofit arena. Installations of Avidyne’s Alliant and Envision retrofit cockpits are starting to pick up following the receipt of STCs in a number of popular models. The company reports that installers have received orders for Alliant hardware in a dozen Beech King Air 90s and 200s, two Cessna 441s and a Cessna 425. Last month Avidyne gained an STC allowing installations of the Envision retrofit cockpit in early Cirrus models with standard six-pack instrumentation. The company is also close to gaining a blanket STC covering Cessna piston twins from the 310 through the 421.

On the OEM front, Avidyne has held its ground despite the recent strong market surge by Garmin. For example, although more than half of buyers of new Pipers are opting for Garmin G1000 avionics over the Avidyne Entegra system, the new Piper Matrix piston single is being sold exclusively with Entegra. Piper said it will build more than 100 copies of the new model this year alone, all of them equipped with Entegra primary and multifunction displays. Avidyne has also been selected to supply the cockpit for Spectrum Aeronautical’s proposed light and midsize jets, which would presumably fly with the so-called Entegra Plus avionics, based on the cockpit layouts Spectrum has revealed so far.

As for the company’s relationship with Cirrus, Avidyne marketing manager Tom Harper insisted it remains strong, and even held out hope that the company could still be in the running to supply the cockpit for the single-engine personal jet (simply called “The Jet” by Cirrus) now under development. “Cirrus announced that L-3 is the development partner for The Jet,” Harper said. “It remains to be seen what the actual selection will be. They’ve been a great partner and we continue to work with them.” Pressed on whether that meant he still thought Avidyne had a chance to supply The Jet’s avionics, Harper said yes. “Until they make a selection for production we think there’s a chance, absolutely. That’s the way we’re approaching it.”