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'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.
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 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.