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The Reality of Parts Obsolescence – Avionics

Mark Wilken – Director of Avionics Sales with Elliott Aviation
www.elliottaviation.com

Cathode ray tubes are commonly found in the Electronic Flight Instrumentation Systems of Beechjets, like this 400A.

Parts obsolescence is inevitable in aviation. The longer the aircraft has been in circulation, the harder it can be to find parts. This especially holds true in avionics because of the parallels they have with consumer electronics. The components that make up the avionics found in the cockpit weren’t originally designed for aviation; they were actually made for the average consumer. To build an Electronic Flight Instrumentation System (EFIS), avionics companies used technology developed for consumer electronics.

Unlike consumer electronics, airplanes are built to fly for many years. Consumer electronics on average have a life cycle of just a few years before something new comes out. As new technology is introduced into the market, old technology becomes obsolete. Consumer electronics have progressed rapidly, especially in the past ten years.

One example that is currently affecting many operators is the cathode ray tube, or CRT, most commonly found in Beechjets and airframes produced through the mid 2000’s. CRT’s were first introduced into airplanes around the 1980’s when microprocessors were coming of age. The simplified version of how the CRT works is that it uses high voltages to excite the screen phosphors within the tube and, in return, creates the picture. However, CRT’s are very susceptible to screen burn. If you can remember, old CRT monitors required screen savers as a preventative measure. If you left the same image on the screen for too long, it would burn the phosphor and leave a shadow of the image. When it came around to installing these CRT’s into the EFIS, specifically attitude and horizon, or HSI, level flights would show the exact same image for hours at a time, eventually burning the screen.

When CRT’s were readily available and plentiful, replacement wasn’t an issue. Consumers were still purchasing CRT TV’s and manufacturers were still producing replacement parts. In fact, Panasonic and Sony produced many of the CRT’s found in EFIS equipped airplanes. However, due to the rapid change in the consumer electronic market, CRT’s switched to LCD’s overnight. This caused the companies making the components for the CRT’s to shutdown and discontinue supporting the product. This is leading to obsolescence in replacement parts for all of the CRT EFIS equipped airplanes.

Avionics manufacturers predict that by the second half of the decade, replacement CRT’s will not be available to repair existing EFIS displays. Unfortunately, this leaves most owners and operators with little choice if they want to keep the same system. One option is to purchase a used EFIS display that was removed from a prior airplane, but that comes with the unknown of how long it will last. Another option is to spend a significant amount of money to send your parts to a specialist for repair at an increasing cost due to shortage of replacement components. Eventually, every CRT will possess significant screen burn. With performance standards gauging this, your airplane could eventually run the risk of being grounded.

Since there are a significant number of quality airplanes still flying, specifically the Beechjet, there will be a need for updated avionics. Engine parts should not be an issue because they don’t have a mass consumer market driving change. Current engine components work as designed and consumers aren’t forcing the need for new and faster components. But for avionics, there will be a point in time where you need to determine whether you want to keep flying the airplane and update the avionics or buy a new airplane.

Fortunately, there are several avionics retrofits available that will keep your plane flying long into the future. In fact, avionics manufacturers have been preparing for this by investing millions of dollars in research and development. For the Beechjet, Collins has updated their Pro Line series from the Pro Line 4 to the Pro Line 21. Additionally, Garmin introduced the G5000. Both of these retrofits are designed to significantly increase the capabilities of the airplane for the fraction of the cost it would take to purchase a new airplane.

Full implementation has yet to happen, but you can expect it within the next few years. The need hasn’t hit all owners and operators yet, but it’s beginning to trickle down. Inevitably, you will need to consider the available options.

Mark Wilken joined Elliott Aviation in 1989 as an Avionics Bench Technician. He was promoted to Avionics Manager in 1996 and joined the sales team in 2003. Mark has led many highly successful avionics programs such as the King Air Garmin G1000 avionics retrofit program. He recently led efforts for Wi-Fi solutions in Hawkers, King Airs and Phenom 300’s. Mark holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation Management from Southern Illinois University and is a licensed Pilot.

Elliott Aviation is a second-generation, family-owned business aviation company offering a complete menu of high quality products and services including aircraft sales, avionics service & installations, aircraft maintenance, accessory repair & overhaul, paint and interior, charter and aircraft management. Serving the business aviation industry nationally and internationally, they have facilities in Moline, IL, Des Moines, IA, and Minneapolis, MN. The company is a member of the Pinnacle Air Network, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), National Air Transportation Association (NATA), and National Aircraft Resale Association (NARA).

Business Aviation & NextGen, Part II: Upgrade, Sell, or Do Nothing?


Image: Creative Commons/SempreVoldano

For aircraft owners, there are still a lot of issues surrounding the FAA's NextGen program. Determining what you should do to remain compliant without drowning in the high costs associated with the new avionics involved is challenging, to say the least.

Last month, in part one of our NextGen series, I discussed avionics equipment and mandates associated with the NextGen program, including what equipment is already mandated, what will be mandated come 2020 and what could potentially become required in the future. These scheduled and proposed mandates have become an important factor to consider for aircraft owners, especially when it comes to deciding whether to upgrade their aircraft's avionics or upgrade to a new airplane altogether.

Here's a rundown of what some aircraft owners have experienced, including how much cash you may need to shell out to get up to speed:

The Trends:
While some business jet operators have a little bit of time to think it over, others are already finding it necessary to upgrade their airplanes to ADS-B and FANS-1/A for international operations. And others are choosing to upgrade early to get it over with and avoid the consequences of not being ready for the 2020 ADS-B mandate.

"What I'm seeing is people using the cost of NextGen to justify an aircraft replacement sooner rather than waiting," says David Wyndham, President and Co-Owner of aircraft consulting firm Conklin & de Decker. "They are fearful of the cost of the upgrade on their older aircraft, or having an older aircraft with little resale appeal if they don't upgrade."

The resale value of an old airplane is one thing. The cost of new, mandated equipment exceeding the cost of the aircraft itself is another reality that aircraft owners must face.

But not everyone shares the opinion that upgrading now is the best option. Some aircraft owners are willing to wait it out with the preconception that the FAA won't be able to meet its own mandate in 2020, and with the hope that the cost of equipment will decrease as more manufacturers put their solutions on the market and better options start to emerge than exist right now. This plan could backfire, though: According to Duncan Aviation's website, as the deadline approaches, the cost of ADS-B will likely go up and aircraft owners could find themselves on a wait list for installation, and, ultimately, grounded.

The Challenges:
Equipment upgrades for NextGen have become a bit of a headache for aircraft owners, as much of the newer technology isn't compatible with what's currently on board aircraft, especially aircraft older than 10 years.

Jeremy Cox, Vice President of JetBrokers, Inc says there are problems at the manufacturer level when it comes to compatibility. "The main problem with ADS-B compliance…is that both Collins and Honeywell are still working on their FMS modifications to enable the ADS-B functionality."

"Worse, there will not be any weather depiction through most of the large aircraft FMS units, as they will not support the frequency," Cox says.

Add to this the possibility of STCs and required waivers for some equipment upgrades, and aircraft owners are experiences delays and down time for expensive equipment that they didn't want to begin with.

The Real Cost:
There are numerous options to consider when it comes to upgrading an airplane for NextGen, which is why every aircraft will be different when it comes to determining the cost of NextGen upgrades.

International operators will be hit the hardest, according to Cox. A full NextGen-compliant upgrade for an international, long-range business jet could likely mean numerous equipment upgrades, such as a new GPS, NAV system, FMS, transponder, Multi-Function Display (MFD), SATCOM, cockpit voice recorder (CVR), or a datalink printer.

Some owners will have additional options to consider, like whether to install ADS-B In along with ADS-B Out equipment. (As of now, the FAA is only mandating the use of ADS-B Out.)

Cox says the cost could add up to millions for business jet owners. "A Gulfstream IV will cost about $1 million to comply. A Falcon 900 will cost anywhere from $1.1 million to $3.5 million. A Challenger 601 will cost more than $1.5 million. Add to this the cost of in-flight SATCOM data that will always be turned on when operating within FANS and CDPLC airspace."

The Silver Lining:
If there's a silver lining to the cost of NextGen equipment, it's that the safety and efficiency that comes with these upgrades will benefit everyone who participates.

While the initial installation is no doubt costly, some people (depending on the type of ADS-B equipment used) will get satellite weather and traffic information at no cost. For those used to paying fees for satellite weather and GPS subscriptions, the high initial price of ADS-B might be worth it in the long run.

And still others see the value in NextGen overall. Pilots are all different when it comes to what they find necessary or valuable in avionics, and many see ADS-B and other equipment upgrades as a welcome and necessary part of the flying world.

Aircraft owner Neal Clayton says the technology is worth it. "I am not a weekend-afternoon local flyer. If I fly I'm going somewhere, at least across state lines, maybe at night, maybe in IMC, or maybe both. So things like synthetic terrain, weather display, and GPS steering are more than toys to me."

Business Aviation & NextGen, Part I: Updates and Mandates


Image Courtesy: FAA

By now, everyone on the general aviation industry is tired of hearing about NextGen and its amazingness, right? I mean, it all sounds great - until you realize that in just a few short years, that new avionics upgrade you got a few years ago could be almost worthless.

While it will be beneficial to have ADS-B, weather mapping and CPDLC, these fancy upgrades don't come cheap. And it's not just the high dollar that destroys people's optimism. There are other decisions involved, too - like whether to upgrade now, wait until the equipment is required or just start over with a brand new jet. Add to this an overabundance of confusing FAA rules, the need for STCs, waiting for paperwork to go through and aircraft downtime, and it's a pretty unappealing process for the typical Citation or Gulfstream owner.

But NextGen has its benefits, too, in the form of safety and efficiency, and maybe it's time for everyone to get on board. But what exactly will you need? When should you equip your aircraft? How much will it cost? Should you upgrade or sell?

In this two-part series, we'll look first at the requirements of NextGen, the equipment upgrades in question, what is mandated and what will be mandated soon. In part two, we'll examine insider opinions and go over some advantages and disadvantages of upgrading avionics versus replacing your aircraft.

If you're not familiar with The FAA's NextGen program and all that it entails, it's time to get cozy with it. The program is a complex one with many different facets within it, including a series of new technologies that will allegedly make the nation's airspace more safe and efficient. A few of these new systems are especially important to aircraft owners because of the high cost and complex avionics involved. We'll go over two of the more significant systems below:

ADS-B:
ADS-B, or Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, is the most accurate system to date for determining aircraft position. Because both ATC and other pilots in the area will be able to determine your aircraft's precise position while flying, ADS-B will allow for reduced separation minimums and a safer flight environment.

According to an FAA mandate, all aircraft owners that intend to fly in class A, B or C airspace must be equipped with ADS-B Out capabilities by January 1st, 2020. This sounds easy enough, but the exact installation requirements vary greatly from aircraft to aircraft, depending on the current avionics package and the type of flying accomplished.

At a minimum, aircraft will need to be equipped with a WAAS-enabled GPS receiver and (for aircraft flying above 18,000 feet) a 1090 MHz ES link with a Mode S Transponder.

ATN-B1 (Datacomm) and FANS-1/A:
ATN-B1 has many names. It's known by the FAA as Datacomm and it's known still to others as Link2000+, PMCPDLC, or CPDLC. It uses datalink technology to send data communications from air traffic controllers to the cockpit of the aircraft via a text message, and vice versa. The FAA's Datacomm program intends to improve communication by reducing voice communication errors that come with fuzzy or congested radio frequencies and improving the accuracy of transmissions. Currently, there is no FAA mandate for the use of Datacomm in the United States, but ATN-B1 will be mandated by EASA in February 2015. The program is expected to be implemented in the U.S. in 2016 and expanded on until 2024.

FANS-1/A is a datalink system that incorporates CPDLC with a surveillance feature called ADS-C. The ADS-C feature provides position reports over areas not served by ground systems, such as the Atlantic Ocean. FANS-1/A is mandated by the North Atlantic Track System (NATS) for the two center tracks over the Atlantic, and this mandate is expected to expand.

Whether an operator decides to equip with ATN-B1 or FANS-1/A will largely be determined by mandates, cost and the aircraft's current equipment status. But one thing is for sure: These datalink upgrades are something operators should prepare for in one way or another.

Stay tuned more information about how business aviation is preparing for NextGen, including why some business jet owners are choosing to upgrade now!

Eclipse 550 Receives Approval for Part 23 Auto Throttle and Anti-Skid Brake Systems


Photo © Eclipse Aerospace

Eclipse Aerospace announced on Thursday that the company has received a supplemental type certificate (STC) from the FAA for new auto throttle and anti-skid brake (ASB) systems for its Eclipse 550, a new-production very light jet that the company says is the "most fuel-efficient jet in the world."

The new auto throttle system was developed in conjunction with Innovative Solutions & Support, and this STC is the first of its kind for a jet certified under FAR Part 23. The new auto throttle system will allow pilots to input the intended airspeed into the autopilot system and the auto throttle system will automatically adjust to the correct power setting. To gain the STC, the auto throttle system had to conform to some Part 25 standards, including quick disengagement controls for each pilot.

The Anti-Skid Brake system, also approved with this STC, was designed by Advent Aerospace and is the only light aircraft ASB system that doesn't require a bulky hydraulic system. Advent Aerospace boasts that it's a lightweight, easy-to-install system that provides better control and improved stopping distance for very light jets.

The Anti-Skid Brake system can also be retrofitted to fit Eclipse 500 aircraft that have the IFMS Avionics package.

Since the Eclipse 550 is in the very light jet category, it can be certified under FAR Part 23, which is designed for light general aviation aircraft under 12,500 pounds. Since most general aviation aircraft fly under Part 91 and occasionally Part 135 operating rules, FAR Part 23 is less restrictive than FAR Part 25.

FAR Part 25 certification stadards apply to commercial operations including business jets. Aircraft certified under Part 25 are required to have certain standards of system redundancy and procedures in place that would allow for the safe continuation of flight in case a system fails.

According to a federal register docket regarding the Eclipse 500 auto throttle STC, FAR Part 23 does not "sufficiently address autothrottle technology and safety concerns" and in response, required special conditions to be met for approval of the Eclipse 500, and ultimately, the Eclipse 550.

The Eclipse 550 has two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F engines rated at 9oo pounds each, giving the lightweight aircraft enough power to cruise at 375 knots to 41,000 feet smoothly and efficiently. The Eclipse 550 starts $2.9 million.

Traceability Equals Peace of Mind

Getting Exactly what You Want from Your Parts Vendor

Thomas Rountree – Parts Manager for Elliott Aviation
www.elliottaviation.com

Everyone wants to have a hassle-free shopping experience and shopping for aircraft parts is no exception. It’s likely that you and your company are short on time and resources so the less time you have to research aircraft parts, the better, especially in an AOG situation. This is where a computer maintenance management system can save you dozens of hours.

If your parts dealer has a good computer maintenance management system, they will be able to tell you the history of that aircraft part from the time the order was placed, what work order it went on, when it was installed, or who it was sold to. It also allows them to trace a specific part to a serial number or lot number sequence so you know how close in age available parts are to the one you have specified.

I recently had a customer experience a computer problem in his airplane and he wanted to know the serial number of the part. At the time, he either wanted his existing equipment repaired or exchanged for a newer model. With just the serial number of his aircraft, we were able to give him options in less than a minute and shipped him a loaner to install the following day while we repaired his faulty device.

A good computer maintenance management system can also help you if you happen to lose your trace documentation. Any reputable company with a good system could replicate and send you the documentation in a matter of minutes. It can also provide you with logbook/date of installation validation. Ultimately, it saves you a lot of hassle. You are the customer; make sure your parts supplier is taking the time to do the research on your behalf.

Thomas Rountree started in logistics when he joined the US Army at the age of 18. His entire career has revolved around that field, including 25 years in retail distribution. He joined Elliott Aviation in 2006 as a shipping-receiving associate, after one year he moved into the Avionics procurement group. A short year later he became the Parts Department Manager and was later promoted to Material Support Manager. He is currently the Director of Parts & Component Services overseeing the Parts Departments, Accessory Shop and Elliott Parts Sales (EPS) group for Elliott Aviation, Inc. ).

Elliott Aviation is a second-generation, family-owned business aviation company offering a complete menu of high quality products and services including aircraft sales, avionics service & installations, aircraft maintenance, accessory repair & overhaul, paint and interior, charter and aircraft management. Serving the business aviation industry nationally and internationally, they have facilities in Moline, IL, Des Moines, IA, and Minneapolis, MN. The company is a member of the Pinnacle Air Network, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), National Air Transportation Association (NATA), and National Aircraft Resale Association (NARA).