This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many companies to examine how they could do business in light of concerns about the coronavirus and travel restrictions. Universal Avionics is one of them, and almost from the start it began planning how it would conduct business as close as possible to normal.
Since July, Universal has begun to roll out programs to serve as a substitute for many canceled industry shows, such as NBAA-BACE, as well as for traditional field visits to its customers.
The Tucson, Arizona-based company’s approach includes the launch of a webinar series tied to its ClearVision enhanced flight vision system (EFVS) and the UA Academy Online Learning Center, which provides on-demand, remote training for customers, authorized dealers, and integrators. It also offers some less conventional initiatives that company officials think will continue to be used after the coronavirus pandemic is a distant memory. They include creating a mobile demonstration unit (MDU); equipping a Gulfstream III with Universal’s latest avionics, including ClearVision EFVS; and introduction of a virtual-reality (VR) training device that customers will be able to use from their desktop computers.
Universal CEO Dror Yahav told AIN that in an effort to better understand how to maintain a connection with its customers, dealers, and technicians, the company concluded that those groups shared one value: personal relationships. “The majority of them—80 to 85 percent—seem to appreciate very, very much the personal touch, the relationship,” he explained. So it was important that whatever Universal did during the pandemic “touch” those stakeholders in a meaningful way and through these varied means, Yahav added.
That’s when the idea for the MDU was conceived. The MDU is a converted trailer set up like a flight deck and equipped with the company's latest avionics products, including FMS with localizer performance with vertical guidance (LPV) capability, data communications, InSight integrated display system, Interactive Synthetic Vision System (i-SVS), and ClearVision EFVS with the SkyLens Head-Wearable Display (HWD).
The benefit of the MDU is that it provides for one-on-one demonstrations without the need for a trade show and booth. It’s especially beneficial now because it allows those demos to occur privately while the participants are social distancing. “There’s [only] so much you can do with a [webinar] presentation,” Yahav said, adding that the demo units for those systems were just sitting in a warehouse. “So we said let’s pack it up and go to those customers and show them what we do.”
Since the mid-July launch, the MDU has traveled to customers in Scottsdale, Arizona; Texas; and Wichita, where Global Aviation Technologies hosted it for a two-day visit. Robert Randall, Universal's director of strategic business development, noted that the MDU has been an effective means of “trying to stay out in front of the customer” during the pandemic, and he expects it to make additional visits to Kansas City, St. Louis, and Minneapolis, as well as possibly some East Coast cities. “It’s proven to be an effective tool,” he said.
Commensurate with the MDU, Universal also is outfitting a Gulfstram III it acquired a little more than a year ago with its avionics, including the ClearVision EFVS and SkyLens HWD, enabling customers to experience ClearVision and SkyLens in flight.
Lastly, Yahav said Universal is a couple of months away from having a ClearVision EFVS VR tool ready for the market. That tool, which is compatible with X-Plane flight-simulation software, will allow customers to experience the EFVS and HWD in the most portable and cost-effective way. “This is an experience we can deliver,” Yahav said, adding that customers will be able to “see stuff that they cannot do without the real equipment.”
Users wearing an Oculus Rift S VR headset will be able to view inside and outside the simulated cockpit windows and view meteorological conditions that they would see from the SkyLens HWD. The tool will support takeoff, en route, and landing scenarios and can be autopilot-coupled or flown by hand. A ClearVision VR Trainer version includes a yoke and pedals. Besides being available for sale, it will be used by Universal’s training department in its course offerings. The first version will be a Boeing 737 flight deck with audio voiceovers to guide a user through the demo or training session.
Yahav said that while these measures required Universal to increase its research and development budget at a time when many companies are cutting costs, he thinks there will ultimately be a healthy payoff. “This crisis will create a lot of opportunities for us as a company [so] that when the market will start to recover…we will be in a better position,” he explained. “I see very good opportunities due to this approach.”