AVweb AVFlash - FRIDAY FEATURES
Volume 20, Number 1c

July 11, 2013

Extended Warranty Plans for Avionics

Some owners are reluctant to buy avionics warranties, but they might not realize the high cost of component replacement and flat-rate factory repairs. On top of that, there's expensive shop labor. The going hourly rate at most avionics shops is over $100 and won't include the shipping costs for sourcing replacement parts. For some glass-cockpit systems, a single repair could cost thousands of dollars.

Now that the fleet of glass cockpit aircraft is aging (some models are older than 10 years) I'm seeing more frequent failures of expensive avionics components. That makes it easier to recommend buying an extended warranty. Here's a report on the plans that are available from Aspen, Avidyne, Garmin and Honeywell.

Aspen Avionics

Aspen's extended warranty lengthens the original two-year warranty an additional two years from the expiration date of the original factory limited warranty. It's available for purchase from any Aspen authorized dealer. 

Aspen's $795 two-year warranty plan covers a single Evolution flight display system for component repair, rebuild, or replacement with a rebuilt unit. There's also special pricing for multi-display installations. For example, $1095 covers a dual-screen suite, while a third screen is covered at no additional charge. Owners have the option to purchase the two-year extended product warranty any time before their existing warranty expires.

To be eligible, the installing dealer must have completed the original warranty application, and the system must be under the unexpired original factory limited warranty or prior extended product warranty. Aspen charges a flat-rate repair price of $1995 to exchange or repair an EFD display that's out of warranty and only covers the replacement or repair for one year.

The extended warranty plan also covers other major components in the EFD system, including the ACU (analog converter unit), the configuration module and the RSM (remote sensor module). The labor costs for the removal and the replacement of any of these (and the display) components is not covered under the warranty. Other exclusions include system batteries, software upgrades and Aspen's EWR-series weather receivers. Further, Aspen warrants repaired, rebuilt or replacement items only for the unexpired portion of the extended warranty period.

Honeywell HAPP

Extended warranty coverage isn't only for small glass cockpits. Honeywell offers the HAPP (Honeywell Avionics Protection Plan) coverage for business and general aviation—including a plan for the APEX integrated cockpit in the Pilatus PC12NG. There's even the MPP (Mechanical Protection Plan), covering the Honeywell environmental and cabin control systems on PC12NG aircraft.

HAPP is backed by SPEX (Spares Exchange Program), which provides LRU exchanges and rentals for both warranty and non-warranty situations. SPEX includes a global network of supply depots, support centers and a 24/7 customer care center.

HAPP offers a variety of coverage options that allows customers to choose a custom plan. A contract can be limited to 12 months, or may be extended over several years. There is no buy-in required and agreements are fully transferable if the aircraft is sold to a new operator. The annual list price for a Pilatus PC12NG HAPP basic ship-set plan is approximately $11,500 per year. Honeywell offers fleet, early enrollment and multi-year enrollment discounts.

Avidyne's New AeroPlan

Avidyne has recently increased the flat rate repair costs for units not covered under the factory warranty. This includes the Entegra 5000-series integrated avionics found in earlier-generation Cirrus and some Piper aircraft, the R9 retrofit avionics suite, the DFC-series autopilots plus other retrofit components. The price jump is dramatic and has stirred a whirlwind of controversy among some Avidyne product owners.

For example, the flat rate repair cost for an Entegra MFD is now $5900—up from a previous $2150. An Entegra PFD repair that used to be $3250 is now $5900. The DFC90 autopilot is $4900, which used to be $2150.

Avidyne's previous warranty plan, which was called FlexCare, has been discontinued and replaced with the company's new AeroPlan. There's also coverage available for Avidyne retrofit products, including the EX600-series MFD and TAS-series traffic systems.

For customers new to AeroPlan, there's a 30-day grace period before any coverage takes effect. Pricing for this new coverage starts at $2000 for a one-year plan, $2900 for two years and $3700 for three years of coverage.

What doesn't the base plan cover? Bezel and glass hardware. Avidyne charges an additional $1300 for Entegra units ($2000 for R9 products) requiring these repairs and exchange replacements. Units with aftermarket screen protectors, scratches, excessive wear, or damage to the glass and/or bezel will automatically be subject to this additional fee. You can purchase a plan that covers glass protection, for an additional $1775 for a year, which covers a PFD and an MFD.

There's also a no-trouble-found (NTF) fee of $750, should Avidyne not confirm the reported discrepancy. That's why it's important to work with a shop that knows the product line, and how to properly troubleshoot the systems.

Owners currently covered under a FlexCare plan can transfer into AeroPlan and gain an extension on their current remaining warranty by 33 percent. For example, if you currently have 12 months remaining on a FlexCare plan, you will receive an additional four months of coverage after converting to AeroPlan. That's not a bad deal, in my view.

Now for the controversy. Signing on to AeroPlan requires the aircraft owner(s) to sign a waiver, release and indemnification that takes Avidyne off the legal hook should the aircraft crash. In signing up for AeroPlan, the owner also agrees to pay all of Avidyne's legal expenses if it's sued as a result of a crash of the owner's aircraft. This, we're told, exposes owners to considerable financial liability, possibly even bankruptcy, at worst.

On the other hand, you or anyone flying will be off the hook should the NTSB determine that a defect in Avidyne's equipment was the probable cause of the accident or incident. It's important to note that NTSB information is not admissible in tort cases. Further, some insurance experts say that signing the waiver could interfere with  some aircraft insurance policies. 

If you're reluctant to sign this agreement—which seems to be the case for all of the Avidyne product owners I spoke with—you risk paying substantially higher flat-rate repair pricing that's in effect, should a unit fail when it's out of warranty. What's behind this unusual liability waiver?

Avidyne's Tom Harper said the company worked hard to better its broken customer service and support department, a point I agree with. In my view, Avidyne service and support is quite good. According to Harper, part of the improvement early on was offering owners a reasonable component flat-rate repair pricing structure. All good things come to an end. Harper noted that offering high-end service at rock bottom pricing won't keep a company in business forever. Fair enough. 

Forced to increase repair pricing, Avidyne feels that their liability waiver is a way to offer their customers affordable extended warranty coverage, while still maintaining a high level of customer service and product reliability. Unfortunately, not all customers feel that this represents stellar customer service. Moreover, the major increase of the flat-rate repair pricing could be compelling enough to force Avidyne product owners to buy into AeroPlan, while accepting the liability.  

Garmin FliteLevel

Garmin offers extended coverage for the components of the G1000 integrated avionics suite and for some aftermarket retrofit products (under the FliteLevel Select plan). This includes all current production and WAAS-upgraded GNS units. It also proves that Garmin hasn't given up on the GNS430 and 530 products.

Although these products were replaced with the new GTN-series navigators, Garmin says they are still including the GNS500W and GNS400W-series navigators in the warranty plan. That's a good thing, since the FliteLevel Select plan could add an additional two to four years of coverage. The original factory warranty on a new product is two years. You'll ultimately pay over $1000 for a flat-rate repair on an out-of-warranty GNS530W. In contrast, two years of FliteLevel Select coverage on a pair of GNS units will cost $1995.

A plan for a loaded retrofitted panel with a G600 PFD, GTN 750 and GTN650 navigators, GDL69 XM receiver, GTS800 traffic system, GTX33 transponder and GMA35 audio system is approximately $6085, for two years of coverage. There is plenty of flexibility, based on configuration. Garmin said that dealers can provide custom pricing options, depending on the equipment that's installed in the aircraft.

What's not covered? Service bulletins (unless mandatory), failures due to abuse, misuse, accident, natural disasters, unauthorized alteration or repairs, damage caused by other equipment installed on the aircraft, software data and data cards that hold supplemental data (FliteCharts, Jeppesen data, etc.). FliteLevel Select doesn't cover freight charges to return the failed unit to the factory. It does cover two-day freight service from the factory to the shop. 

With Garmin's coverage, units are either repaired or exchanged and no-charge loaners may be supplied at the customer's request. However, shop labor for installing the loaner unit isn't covered and you'll be assessed a late charge if the loaner isn't returned within 60 days. You'll could also be responsible for shipping costs when the shop sends the loaner unit back to the factory. Shipping costs have become a real expense for shops and one that is often passed along to the owner.

FliteLevel covers nearly all components within the G1000 suite, called Line Replaceable Units or LRUs. These include remote transponders, audio systems, heading sensors and those big-screen displays, to name a few. You can purchase coverage on equipment only, or equipment and labor. On average, the price difference between covering the labor or not is $2000.

As an example, three years of FliteLevel coverage for a Cirrus Perspective avionics suite is $7495 for component coverage only. Add shop labor coverage and the price is $9495. For a Diamond DA40 with Garmin G1000 and GFC700 autopilot, $5995 covers the LRUs and $7995 covers LRU and labor.

I would opt to buy the labor coverage given the time consuming troubleshooting and disassembly effort that's often required for G1000 repairs. Just opening the airframe to remove and replace a LRU could take a couple of hours.

Still, not everything is covered, including labor-intensive software configuration. I once spent a full day loading and configuring new software into the G1000 suite in a Mooney Ovation. This labor wasn't covered by the warranty. The software load was required to make the system compatible with the newer software in the replacement LRU.

Garmin has an extensive LRU exchange program in place, and my field experience has proven that there's always a generous supply of exchange units on hand. Further, I've found that Garmin arguably sets the standard for top-notch field support troubleshooting assistance, which should help keep shop labor down. FliteLevel warranty coverage includes paid two-day outbound freight and call-tag service for return of the failed unit to the Garmin factory in Olathe, Kansas. You'll need to have this warranty work accomplished at an authorized Garmin service center, of course, but you're bound to find one in nearly every region you fly. There's even AOG emergency service available 24/7.

Peace of Mind

At a minimum, that's what an avionics extended warranty plan can offer. If you have to use the coverage, it might pay for itself during one trip to the shop. It might also add value to the aircraft. In many cases, the warranty is transferable with the sale of the aircraft. A G1000 Cessna owner told me that the FliteLevel coverage for his glass cockpit helped to sell the aircraft, easing the buyer's fear of potentially high maintenance costs.

Larry Anglisano is AVweb's Avionics Editor and the Managing Editor of Aviation Consumer magazine.

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The Savvy Aviator #58: Why Mechanics Make Mistakes

During the century since the Wright Brothers first flew, the predominant perpetrator in aircraft accidents has shifted dramatically from machine to human. Today, human error is responsible for 90 percent of aircraft accidents and incidents. It's not that people have become more careless, forgetful, inattentive or reckless. It's that aircraft and aircraft components have become much more reliable. As component failures become fewer and fewer, human failures represent an ever-increasing percentage. Most of the efforts of the aviation research community have focused on errors committed by pilots. This is appropriate, since about 75 percent of serious aviation accidents are due to pilot error. However, there have been a significant number of serious, even fatal, accidents caused primarily by maintenance errors. While there has been increased focus on maintenance errors by the airlines, particularly in the wake of the Aloha and ValuJet crashes, not nearly enough attention has been given to maintenance errors in General Aviation (GA).

Kinds of Maintenance Errors

Less-than-adequate maintenance can be divided into two broad classes:

  • Introduction of a problem that was not there before the maintenance began; and
  • Failure to detect a pre-existing problem during maintenance inspections.

Errors of omission seem to be the most prevalent kind of maintenance errors. An analysis of 122 maintenance errors detected by a major airline over a three-year period revealed the following breakdown:

  • Omissions: 56 percent
  • Incorrect installation: 30 percent
  • Wrong parts installed: 8 percent
  • Other errors: 6 percent

 When the 56 percent of errors attributed to omissions was further examined, the breakdown was:

  • Fasteners left undone or incomplete: 22 percent
  • Items left locked or pins not removed: 13 percent
  • Filter/breather caps loose or missing: 11 percent
  • Items left loose or disconnected: 10 percent
  • Spacers, washers, etc., missing: 10 percent
  • Tools, spare fasteners, etc., not removed: 10 percent
  • Lack of lubrication: 7 percent
  • Access panels left off: 3 percent
  • Miscellaneous: 11 percent

The Reassembly Problem

Clearly, most maintenance errors occur not when taking something apart, but rather when putting that something back together. There's a good reason for this. Consider a bolt (figure below) onto which eight nuts have been assembled, each one labeled with a unique letter A through H.

Assume that the mechanic's task is to disassemble the nuts from the bolt, clean them, and then reassemble them in the original order. There is really only one way to take this assembly apart, but there are 40,320 different ways in which it could be put back together -- and 40,319 of them are wrong! This simplistic example illustrates the fact that the task of disassembly usually constrains the mechanic to one particular sequence, with each succeeding step being prompted by the last. The mechanic doesn't require much guidance, because the disassembly procedure is usually obvious. In contrast, correct reassembly usually requires knowledge -- either in the mechanic's memory or in written form. Human memory being as imperfect as it is, reassembly based on memory is error-prone. Reassembly based on written guidance (such as a checklist or service-manual instructions) is far more reliable, but people doing a hands-on job tend to be reluctant to consult written instructions. (Watch your A&P work on your airplane, and note how rarely he consults the service manual or any other form of written guidance.) Reassembly-by-memory is probably adequate for a task that the mechanic does every day. Most maintenance tasks aren't like this, however, and we all know how easily we can forget the details of a task after even a short period of time. To make matters worse, a wrongly-assembled component is not always obvious on later inspection. The absence of washers, bushings, fasteners, seals, O-rings, caps, lubrication, etc., are often concealed once the component has been reassembled. Thus, reassembly errors often create the opportunity for double jeopardy: a high probability of forgetting something important during reassembly, and a low probability of detecting the error once the job is completed.

Slips, Mistakes, and Violations

Failures by a mechanic to perform a task as planned are commonly termed slips, lapses, trips or fumbles. A slip occurs when the mechanic is trying to do the right thing, but screws it up somehow. Slips can be caused by:

  • Omitting some necessary action;
  • Performing some necessary action in a clumsy fashion;
  • Performing some unwanted action; and
  • Carrying out the right actions in the wrong order.

Such slips most often occur when doing tasks by memory -- often well-practiced tasks that are done frequently in an automatic fashion. Mistakes are higher-level failures caused by an error in the plan itself. These are usually caused by lack of knowledge, and occur most commonly when performing tasks that are not done very often. Often, mistakes are caused by trying to do something by memory that should have been looked up on the service manual. Forgetting to torque a cylinder hold-down nut is a slip; torquing it to the wrong torque value is a mistake. Violations are deviations from standard practices, rules, regulations, or standards. While slips and mistakes are unintentional, violations are usually deliberate. They often involve cutting corners in order to take the path of least resistance, and often become part of a mechanic's habit pattern. In a recent columnI wrote about an incident in which the pilot of a Cessna 340A launched into IMC on the first flight after maintenance, only to discover that his airspeed indicator, altimeter and VSI stopped working as the aircraft climbed through 3000 feet. The cause of the problem turned out to be a mechanic's failure to reconnect a static line that had been disconnected during maintenance to facilitate access. The mechanic's failure to reconnect the line was an inadvertant slip -- he forgot. On the other hand, the mechanic's failure to perform a static-system leak check (required by FAR any time the static system is opened) was a deliberate violation. Because of the violation, the slip went undetected and jeopardized safety of flight.

Distractions

Distractions play a big part in many errors of omission. A common scenario is that a mechanic installs some nuts or bolts finger-tight, then gets a phone call or goes on lunch break and forgets to finish the job by torquing the fasteners. I have personally seen some of the best, most experienced mechanics I know fall victim to such seemingly rookie mistakes. I know of several fatal accidents and countless less-serious incidents caused by such omissions. Just as pilots need a "sterile cockpit" during high-workload phases of flight, mechanics need a distraction-free workplace when performing safety-critical maintenance tasks. Unfortunately, the typical piston GA shop is a distraction-rich environment. Phone calls come in. Customers drop by unexpectedly. UPS and FedEx drivers deliver anxiously-awaited parts. The Snap-On tool truck stops by. The shop's FAA principal maintenance inspector pays a surprise visit. The roach coach arrives with lunch. This is less of a problem in the big turbine shops, where there's usually a Parts Manager to deal with deliveries, a Customer Service Manager to handle customer visits and phone calls, and a Compliance Manager to interface with the FAA. But in the smaller shops that owners of piston GA usually use, employees usually wear multiple hats and must deal with these distractions as they come. That leads to mistakes. Big shops have their own issues. Shift changes cause lots of problems, when the first-shift technician assumes the second-shift technician will handle something, but the second-shift guy fails to do it because he assumes the first-shift guy handled it.

Quality Assurance

I've visited a half-dozen different GA aircraft and engine factories to watch how they build our flying machines. One of the fundamental work rules at these plants is that there must always be at least two sets of eyes that look at every step of the process: the technician that performs the work, and an inspector who verifies that the work has been done properly. Often, there are three sets of eyes: two technicians who work as a team and check one another's work, and then an inspector who re-checks the work. Large repair stations that work on turbine aircraft often have similar rules, where designated inspectors are required to check the work of each mechanic and sign it off. But the smaller shops where most piston GA maintenance is done seldom can afford the luxury of having dedicated inspectors on staff. One A&P will sometimes ask another to check a particularly critical or complex task, but most maintenance is checked by just one set of eyes belonging to the mechanic who did the work, and most scheduled inspections are done by just one IA. Fewer sets of eyes inevitably means that more slips, mistakes, violations and discrepancies escape detection.

The Owner As Final Inspector

Aircraft owners and pilots need to understand that maintenance errors create a significant hazard, and act accordingly. The most likely time for an aircraft to suffer a mechanical problem is on the first flight after maintenance. Prudence demands a post-maintenance test flight every time the aircraft comes out of maintenance. The test flight should be done in VMC, without passengers, and in a place where the pilot can easily put the airplane back on the ground if something isn't right. Prior to the test flight, the owner or pilot should conduct an extraordinarily thorough preflight. Make sure that all inspection plates and fairings are installed and secure, all cowling fasteners are tight, and all fuel and oil caps installed. Check that all flight controls and trim systems are free throughout their full range of motion and operating in the correct direction. Check that all instruments and avionics systems are functioning properly. Perform a ground test of the autopilot. Run up the engine thoroughly, then shut down and check for leaks. Be sure you don't smell fuel or anything burning. In short, be thoroughly skeptical any time an aircraft comes out of maintenance. Your pre-flight and test flight are the last line of defense against maintenance errors.


Want to read more from Mike Busch? Check out the rest of his Savvy Aviator columns.
And use this link to send questions to Mike.

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More on Asiana 214

I do it. You do it. We all do it.

As pilots, in the wake of an accident like Asiana 214 last Saturday in San Francisco, we crank up our piety and discipline and decline public comment until the investigators are done. But amongst ourselves, there’s no such restraint and there’s not much in the e-mail I’ve been getting, either, the tone of which is to flat out ask how this crew could have flown such an unstable, off-speed approach. Might as well come right out and say it, even if it will be months before the NTSB puts the puzzle together and learns why the pilots appeared to be so far off acceptable airmanship, much less an A-game. I’ve seen a few unkind student pilot analogies posted and not all of them are from the aviation illiterate masses.

If the current fact pattern is sustained, I’m sure the NTSB will get around to finding out how large looms the human factors aspect of this accident. And at that juncture, a certain déjà vu settles in; a couple of correspondents think they’ve seen this movie before. One of the things investigators will probably examine is how the flying pilots worked both the automation and the CRM. That may cause the surprise appearance of a large elephant long thought dead: the bad old days of Korean air safety when KAL and related companies had 16 hull losses between 1970 and 1999. Two of the worst were KAL 801 in Guam and KAL 8509, both of which occurred within two years of each other in 1997 and 1999.

In KAL 801, the Captain failed to brief the 747 crew on the approach then followed erroneous glideslope signals, crashing into a hill and killing 228. Investigators determined that a contributing cause was a fundamental aspect of Korean culture in which subordinates don’t question their superiors--filial piety woven into the base societal structure in a way that deifies the left seat occupant. In the west, you'll sometimes hear the term "five-striper" applied to such a situation . The FO and engineer on 801 failed to question the Captain’s actions and decision-making, the very thing that modern CRM is supposed to prevent.

The circumstances were different for 8509, a 747 freighter, but the outcome was the same.The Captain’s INU/ADI had proven faulty on the inbound flight and wasn’t repaired properly. When the Captain overbanked on a night takeoff from London’s Stansted Airport, the FO rode through the subsequent departure and crash without uttering a word, even though his ADI was functioning normally. That accident proved to be a watershed for KAL, serving as a wakeup call to improve training and CRM in a way that eventually elevated the airline to among the safest in the world. But human perfectibility being what it is, changing a thousand years of culture might not be as easy as that, and I’m sure investigators will consider it during their interviews and CVR analysis.

Some have seen in the 214 accident an eerie echo of another more recent crash: Air France 447 in 2009. In that accident, three crew members mushed a perfectly recoverable aircraft into the ocean because of confusion over instrument and automation indications and a baffling inability to interpret stall indications. Could flight 214’s crew have suffered similar confusion over the arming of but the failure to engage the autothrottles? Did that even matter? Is there a human interface issue with the automation that’s a design flaw or a training lapse in the airline’s program? I’m sure that’s another lead that will have to be pursued in explaining why the approach went so wrong. 

The Asiana crash reminds me of another accident I remembered, but I had to call my friend John Eakin at Air Data Research to pin down the details. It was Continental 1713, which crashed on departure in a raging snow storm from the then-Stapleton Airport in Denver in November, 1987. The investigation revealed that the airline had paired two inexperienced in-type crew members, one with 166 hours, the other with 26 hours. And the relatively green Captain assigned the takeoff to the FO who over rotated on takeoff and lost control of the DC-9.

After 1713, the NTSB recommended—and the FAA adopted—not pairing two low-time crew members on the same flight. I suspect the NTSB will consider if Asiana repeated that mistake. Although both pilots had plenty of total time, the Captain was 43 hours into his IOE and, according to Asiana, the check airman training him was on his first flight as an instructor. Could that, coupled with whatever remnants of Korean culture that persist despite CRM training, have been a factor?

I’m sure that question will come up, too. And given the language and culture barriers, I don’t envy the NTSB figuring it out.