Weather Datalink: Break Out The Black Boxes

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Weather Datalink: Break Out The Black Boxes

Live weather in the cockpit -- and not the kind that appears like measles on a sferics gadget -- has long been a must-have for aircraft owners and AirVenture 2004 suggests that it's becoming increasingly affordable. And it's also increasingly confusing to sort through all the options, price points and data plans -- not to mention minor warfare over which platforms will display the weather. The big surprise for owners prowling the booths for new developments in weatherlink came from WSI, which stunned everyone -- including Garmin -- by announcing that its satellite-based weather datalink service would be available for the popular GNS430 and GNS530 navigators. (See www.wsi.com and www.garmin.com).

Although Garmin offers its own weatherlink for the GNS navigators based on the Orbcomm system, WSI has enjoyed rave reviews for its satellite-based system, which plays NEXRAD radar and other weather products on portable cockpit computers and on GarminAT's MX-20 multifunction display. Thousands of 430/530 owners have lusted for the speed and high definition of the WSI system and on Tuesday, WSI scratched the itch by announcing the AV200-5, a certified weather receiver aimed specifically at the 430/530 market. Price: $5690, including antenna, with deliveries expected for the fall. Great news for Garmin owners. But there's a teensy weensy hitch.

WSI developed the product on its own and Garmin declares that the WSI 430/530 interface is unauthorized. What does that mean, exactly? Since Garmin's weather interface to the outside world isn't patented or copyrighted, there appears to be no legal infringement. However, Garmin's Tim Casey told AVweb that the company can make no assurances the WSI system will continue to function correctly as Garmin upgrades the 430/530 line with WAAS firmware and software. Whether the FAA will have anything to say about the WSI/Garmin contretemps remains to be seen but to protect its product, it will be in WSI's interest to work around any problems caused by upgrades to the GNS series.