Some could be caught short in rush to install TAWS units

 - May 15, 2008, 9:02 AM

Installation centers anticipating extra demand nearer the start of the March 29, 2005, mandate for terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS) in the existing turbine fleet are advising operators to purchase and install the equipment sooner rather than holding off until shop schedules start filling up.

“Three years may seem like a long way off, but smart operators are realizing there are significant benefits to equipping early,” said Mike Turner, director of marketing for Elliott Aviation in Moline, Ill., which performs installations of the Universal Avionics TAWS at its facilities. “Upwards of 10,000 aircraft will be affected by the TAWS rule. The longer operators wait, the higher the price for equipment and installation work will climb,” Turner predicts.

TAWS will be required in all U.S.-registered turbine-powered airplanes with six or more passenger seats. The FAA has split the TAWS rule into two categories, which allow different classes of equipment to be installed depending on the size of an airplane and whether it operates on a commercial certificate. Class-A TAWS, intended for Part 91 airplanes with 10 or more passenger seats and all Part 135 and 121 airplanes with six or more seats, includes both aural and visual alerts and must be tied into a number of aircraft systems. Part 91 turbine airplanes with between six and nine passenger seats, meanwhile, can be operated with a less expensive class-B system, which is required to include only aural caution and warning messages, and which may operate independent of most aircraft systems.

Honeywell now offers several versions of its Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), from the $68,000 class-A Mark V system all the way down to the sub-$15,000 class-B Mark XXI. Class-A versions tailored to the business aviation market from Honeywell currently sell for an uninstalled price of about $36,000, which is comparable to the price for the class-A TAWS from Universal.

Despite the fact that many Part 91 operators are required to carry only the class-B TAWS, installation facilities say they are finding that most are opting for class-A systems, which provide a host of additional protections.

Allen Bergfeld, manager of customer service for Cessna in Wichita, said that to varying degrees safety and resale value both consider into the typical Citation operators’ decision to purchase and install the more expensive class-A TAWS equipment.

“After they’ve done the research, a customer will often decide to go with a unit that while perhaps more expensive enhances safety. Today, safety is playing a larger role in purchasing decisions than it ever has,” he said.

In addition to TAWS units from Honeywell and Universal, a number of avionics makers are currently involved in certification trials of class-A and -B equipment in anticipation of the 2005 mandate.

Sandel Avionics of Vista, Calif., is on the verge of gaining the initial TSO and STC for its ST 3400 TAWS/RMI, which will be offered in both class-A and -B versions. Uninstalled price for the class-A system is $34,500, while its class-B unit sells for $28,200. Both products include a 3-ATI display and integrated RMI.

Goodrich, meanwhile, is continuing work on its $15,000 class-B TAWS, named Landmark, which can be used with any TAWS-compatible Arinc 453 EFIS or radar indicator. When coupled with the Goodrich RGC250 radar graphics computer, terrain can be viewed on an airplane’s existing weather radar indicator. A spokesman for Goodrich said the RGC250 offers improved terrain contouring and runway and obstacle depictions, as well as higher-resolution traffic data and lightning display information for buyers of Goodrich’s Skywatch and Stormscope products.

A fifth entrant in the market is Aviation Communication & Surveillance Systems (ACSS), a Phoenix-based maker of TCAS and mode-S transponders. Owned jointly by L-3 Communications of New York and Thales of Paris, ACSS is designing a TAWS that is integrated into its TCAS 2000, now flying aboard a long list of business jets. No firm price has been set for the forthcoming T2CAS, which should be certified by the end of the year.

Even with a number of competitors entering the market, observers anticipate equipment and installation prices will rise sharply nearer the deadline for TAWS in the existing fleet. As a result, getting in the door at an approved shop could be difficult.

The FAA has told the airlines and business aviation operators on countless occasions not to count on an extension of the TAWS mandate’s deadline. In the agency’s opinion, a sufficient number of airplanes have already been upgraded to justify going ahead with the rule. Operators who wait until 2005 to get serious about installing TAWS could be in for an unpleasant surprise, say experts, when they learn that shops are booked and the FAA will not let them fly without the required equipment.

“We predict there will be a rush of airplanes needing TAWS installed, and we don’t believe there is enough capacity, even starting today,” said Greg Wilson, director of product marketing for Sandel Avionics. “It won’t be like TCAS where everybody waited until the last minute–but those people who do decide to hold off on a TAWS will be caught short.