So, What's in it for the aircraft owner?
By Jim Sparks
Technology in the area of aircraft electronics continues to expand at a rapid rate. The new equipment available is not only intended for the airlines and military applications. On the contrary, significant advancements have been made and tailored to the general aviation market.
So what are the incentives for the single engine aircraft owner to install a new avionics package? Well in some cases certain modifications may be driven by regulation. For example, the use of older VHF aircraft radios not meeting a frequency tolerance of .003 percent was decided to be illegal for transmissions by the Federal Communication Commission on Jan. 1, 1997. Transmitting on these radios is illegal; receiving radio frequencies is not a problem. In other cases support for older equipment is dwindling and repair capability may no longer exist.
An upgrade package on any aircraft should include a great deal of preplanning. The more thought that goes in on the front end will have exponential effects on system longevity and reliability.
A primary consideration in the decision process should always be the aircraft primary mission. An aircraft used for transporting sky divers perhaps within a 10-mile radius of its home airport would probably not require sophisticated and multiple navigation systems. Whereas a long-range business aircraft operating in high density air routes will require more complex equipment with adequate backup as to allow continued operation should a failure be recognized while in flight. With all the new equipment on the market sometimes the "I want" exceeds the "I really need" situation which can sometimes result in staggering increases in cost of the installations.
Prior to making any decisions regarding equipment, a prudent approach is to sit down with a reputable avionics technician who can explain the interfacing capabilities of different devices. Numerous cases are on record where an operator has tried to mix and match different equipment brands only to find they do not speak the same language. This can usually be resolved by incorporating converters, however, the additional engineering and components can change what looked like a reasonable upfront cost into a money pit. Support for morphadite systems is also often difficult to obtain except from perhaps the installer.
Some of the primary considerations prior to investing in an avionics upgrade should include:
The Man Machine Interface, that is the functionality of the flight deck. The flight crew should always have a good situational awareness and as long as the needed controls and displays can be easily accessed, the flight deck will be user friendly.
Upgrade ability. When changes come out (as we all know they will) how difficult and expensive will they be to incorporate?
Mission change. Should the aircraft need to make trips to Europe issues like communication radio frequency spacing at 8.33 kHz vs. 25 kHz will need to be considered.
Use of existing equipment. In some cases certain pieces of hardware may be compatible with newer technology devices. This option should be explored as significant cost savings may be realized.
Technical support and logistics. Can the system problems be addressed by a wide range of repair shops and are spare parts readily available?
Weight change. Although new technology devices are in general much lighter than similar devices of yesteryear, the tendency to install additional systems may have an impact on the aircraft payload.
Power requirements. Like with weight change most new electronics consume significantly less electrical power than their predecessors. Anytime aircraft electrical loads change, a load analysis should be conducted.
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