Garmin enters TAWS fray with class-B unit

 - May 6, 2008, 5:59 AM

Garmin has tossed its hat into the terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) ring, announcing at EAA’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., last month that a class-B product is in the works and will be offered to buyers of Garmin 500-series avionics “within a year.”

A non-certified version of the terrain-alerting system will also be available for interface with both the Garmin 400 and 500, according to a spokesman, but Garmin has not yet disclosed many specific details of the new products.

The addition of Garmin to the TAWS fray brings the total number of suppliers and would-be suppliers of terrain-alerting systems to six. Honeywell has filed lawsuits against the others–a list that includes Goodrich, ACSS, Universal Avionics and Sandel–for alleged violations of patents related to its Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning system (EGPWS).

A spokesman for Olathe, Kan.-based Garmin said the avionics maker is watching the Honeywell TAWS lawsuit situation with interest, but added that its forthcoming system has “unique features” that Garmin itself intends to patent. Further details will likely not emerge at this month’s NBAA Convention in Orlando, Fla., as Garmin had earlier stated, as the company sticks to its usual practice of remaining tight-lipped about new products in development. The spokesman added that Garmin’s reticence has “little to do” with Honeywell’s patent lawsuit.

Garmin currently offers five versions of its 400- and 500-series avionics, spanning the popular GNS 430, an IFR GPS receiver integrated with VHF com, moving map, ILS, VOR, LOC and glideslope; the GNC 420, an IFR GPS receiver with VHF com and moving map; the GPS 400, a GPS-only unit; and the GNS 530 and GPS 500, which incorporate 400-series functions with a larger moving-map display.

While sales of GPS receivers to the automotive, outdoor recreation and maritime markets have overtaken GA as Garmin’s primary revenue source, aviation remains the “business of pride,” according to the company. Garmin was founded by  Min Kao and Gary Burrell, former AlliedSignal engineers who struck out on their own in 1989 to form an avionics company that the pair hoped would prosper from the introduction of navigation products based on GPS, at that time a fairly new technology. The new company (which combined its founders’ first names to form “Gar-Min”) introduced its first GPS receivers in 1991 and then quickly expanded to include a family of GPS receivers serving a variety of markets. Burrell retired on August 24, his 65th birthday, leaving the company in the hands of Kao.

Both the Garmin 400- and 500-series avionics have been popular with GA pilots, as well as business aircraft operators, particularly the GNS 430. Additional functionality in the 500 series for class-B TAWS should be a welcome addition, particularly if it sells at a price that is competitive with TAWS products from the other manufacturers.

Honeywell’s own class-B KGP 560 EGPWS for general aviation sells for less than $10,000. It is the lowest priced product in a family of class-A and -B systems that span GA, business aviation, helicopter, regional airline and air-transport markets. The FAA is requiring TAWS in most turbine-powered airplanes starting in March 2005, a market that will include nearly all business jets and turboprops with six or more passenger seats.

Class-B TAWS is being mandated in all Part 91 turbine-powered airplanes with six or more passenger seats and Part 135 turbine airplanes with six to nine seats starting on March 29, 2005. Class-A TAWS, meanwhile, will be required in all Part 121 airplanes and Part 135 airplanes with 10 or more seats. The FAA recently told avionics inspectors that installations of class-B units in many cases may forego the STC process and instead use the FAA Form 337 field-approval process.