It’s business as usual at AEA Convention

 - April 30, 2010, 11:24 AM

The Aircraft Electronics Association’s annual convention doesn’t rank as the biggest or most heavily attended trade show on the aviation event calendar, but for those who work in the avionics industry the time spent at AEA often proves more valuable than what can be gained from traveling to larger shows like the NBAA Convention and Ebace.

Targeted to avionics dealers and installers, the AEA Convention draws only about 1,500 people each spring, but it’s a decidedly target-rich environment.

This year’s show, held early last month at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee, Fla., saw attendance numbers reach almost 1,400, which was in line with what organizers had hoped for given the state of the economy. “The mood at the show was cautiously optimistic,” said AEA president Paula Derks. “No one is expecting a rapid recovery this year, but our members are reporting definite signs of improved business activity.”

Avionics manufacturers made it clear they aren’t waiting for the market to fully recover before introducing new products. Each year the AEA show features an informative and well attended new product introduction session, during which manufacturers are allotted time to provide details of their latest product offerings. The session lasts about two hours, after which attendees can head to the show floor to learn more about the products or services in which they are most interested.

This year more than 30 companies presented during the session. Some highlights included the debut of a cabin moving-map product from Flight Display Systems that is designed to serve as a direct replacement for older Airshow 100, 200 and 400 units. The upgrade kit gives passengers a cabin moving map with worldwide satellite imagery. The $11,000 cost is typically less than that of repairing a broken Airshow unit, the company claims.

“There are thousands of old Airshow units flying today that are no longer supported,” said Jay Healey, vice president of the Georgia company. “Flight Display Systems now offers an easy, inexpensive option to modernize those moving maps for the passengers.” He noted the upgrade kit is a direct pin-for-pin replacement of the original Airshow unit, eliminating the need for rewiring. As a result, aircraft downtime is zero.

Ellipse TV Set To Soar?
Healey also said Flight Display Systems appears closer than ever to signing its first customer for a satellite TV product that the company introduced several years ago but which failed to gain a foothold in the market due to certification delays and its unconventional design. A targeted selling price below $100,000 was the major attraction for the Ellipse TV system, a product that takes a commercial-off-the-shelf satellite television antenna normally mounted atop SUVs, mobile homes and yachts and makes it available for installation on business jets.

The antenna is designed to mount in an oblong radome that sits a foot above the fuselage atop four aluminum stilts. The design is not unlike the radars found on Awacs aircraft, though on a much smaller scale. The system gained an STC in the Challenger series in 2008 and now, two years later, the first sale to a Challenger 601 operator appears to be imminent, according to Healey. “Stay tuned,” he said.

PS Engineering, meanwhile, introduced the PMA8000B-T, the industry’s first Bluetooth-capable aircraft audio panel. The unit is identical to the PMA8000B audio panel, and adds capability to pair wirelessly with any Bluetooth-compatible headset. Price for the PMA8000B-T is $2,295. Deliveries are expected to begin in the third quarter.

Also revealed at the new products session was DPI Labs’ Smart- Link HD, a high-definition cabin management and entertainment system that supports 22 uncompressed HD video channels and 500 audio channels. The company said the video distribution system will use serial data transmission, making it immune to noise interference and allowing for long cable runs through the cabin without a loss of signal. Because it replaces several independent boxes, Smart-Link HD is also lighter and takes up less space. Video selections can be made independent of the cabin monitors, meaning passengers can view individual HD content.

International Communications Group arrived at the AEA Convention with the news that it had received an STC for its NxtMail Iridium e-mail server in the Gulfstream G200, along with certification of its Sora dual-network satcom system (see article on page 51), which houses both Iridium and Inmarsat SwiftBroadband transceivers. Sora’s Swift- Broadband link operates using a medium-gain from project partner Cobham Antenna Systems. Sora and the NxtMail e-mail server are both available for purchase. STC programs for a variety of business jets are scheduled to begin shortly, according to the manufacturer.

Aircell reports continued strong demand for the company’s $85,000 ATG-5000 air-to-ground high-speed datalink system, which is capable of providing Internet connections over the continental U.S. at speeds rivaling those of ground- bound DSL connections.

Aircell’s New Pricing Option
Also at the show, Aircell announced a new pricing option that will charge users for the data they consume rather than billing a flat monthly fee. Aircell currently charges around $2,000 for an all-you-can-use option for business aviation customers. Customers who fly less frequently asked for the “per-megabit” option to help them keep costs in check, said Aircell senior vice president and general manager John Wade. Pricing details for the pay-as-you-go service will be announced soon, he said.

EMS Aviation exhibited for the first time under its new corporate identity after parent company EMS Technologies earlier this year combined EMS Satcom, EMS Formation and EMS Sky Connect into a single division. The big draw at the show was EMS Sky Connect’s Forte Airmail product, which houses a Wi-Fi access point allowing as many as 14 passengers to connect at one time to send and receive e-mail over an onboard Iridium satcom system. The package includes an Iridium transceiver, Wi-Fi access point, and a small external antenna that’s about the size of a hockey puck.

Nim Evatt, EMS Aviation’s newly appointed vice president and general manager, told AIN that although the EMS Aviation divisions will collaborate on new products, the company also recognizes the value of each business unit’s brand and specific area of expertise. “We have created a single company that comes under one umbrella, but we also want to be careful not to lose what makes each so special,” he said.

Universal Avionics announced the stand-alone AHS-525 attitude heading reference system (AHRS), a solid-state unit that is designed to provide stable and accurate aircraft analog and digital pitch, roll and heading measurements. Universal Avionics said it designed the AHS-525 as a low-cost addition for next-generation flight decks that need to replace their increasingly difficult to maintain analog gyros.

The AHS-525 incorporates microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)-based technology that combines the computational ability of microelectronics with the acuity and control of microsensors and microaccelerometers, the company said. The solid-state construction has no internal movable parts, which reduces downtime and increases mean time between failure. An FAA technical standard order is expected in October.

Other major manufacturers of cockpit equipment did not have many new products to reveal, perhaps preferring to make their announcements at the NBAA and Ebace shows. Rockwell Collins, however, did announce that Version 2.0 software is now available for the Airshow 4000 moving map. Honeywell, meanwhile, touted its Primus Elite retrofit cockpit, which replaces the CRTs of existing Primus 1000, 2000 and 2000XP avionics suites with LCDs. Garmin touted its recently introduced G500 and G600 retrofit cockpits as well as a number of handheld GPS receivers including the new aera line.

Innovative Solutions & Support drew a steady stream of visitors to its booth, where the company showed off its Adviz retrofit cockpit for Cessna Citations. The avionics have also been STC’d for installation in Eclipse 500s originally built with Avidyne cockpit equipment. Cessna is supporting the Citation retrofits by performing the installations at its authorized service centers.

Avidyne touted its Entegra Release 9 cockpit, which reinvents the company’s baseline avionics suite by adding an integrated digital Waas navcom/surveillance suite managed within the new FMS900w flight management system. Aspen Avionics, meanwhile, said synthetic- vision capability will be added to its Evolution family of retrofit flight displays early next year. The company is also developing for certifi- cation by the end of the year a back-up display that will combine seven cockpit functions in one unit.