AirVenture 2012: Cubs Shine, Avionics Buzz

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Cubs 2 Oshkosh
The mass arrivals at AirVenture by various owners groups are always good for a few thrills, albeit sometimes for the wrong reasons. They occasionally promote the idea that even though you only flew nine hours last year, why, you should be perfectly capable of flying trail spacing with 80 other airplanes and landing on a 20-foot orange dot in eastern Wisconsin. How hard could it be?

But Sunday's arrival of about 80 Cubs in a mass flyout from Hartford, Wisconsin was entirely lacking in such drama. Then it occurred to me why that was probably so. Some of these Cubs came from as far as the west coast, the southwest and Florida. If the owners were at all rusty when they left, they surely wouldn't be by the time they got here, given the number of fuel stops and landings such a trip requires. One west coast pilot required 26 hours one way, which I calculate to be at least eight fuel stops, if not a dozen. No surprise that the arrival was a precession of near-perfect wheelies and three pointers. No performance anxiety in sight. Well done Cub owners.

For a few shining moments, I had hoped to fly our Cub to OSH this year. But I'm no less susceptible to that thing that conspires to keep everyone else from flying as much as they'd like: lack of time. For us, AirVenture is editorial Mt. Everest, the Indy 500 of aviation journalism, a veritable World Series of…okay, you get the drift. If you'd like to donate some cheese for that whine, I like Muenster but in deference to the locale, cheddar will do. You can drop it by our press trailer.

Bendix/King's Revival
I've been covering this company for more than 20 years and have watched with dismay as it simply ceded the market to a fierce competitor, Garmin International. For months, we've been hearing that Bendix/King was investing and staffing up with the intent of remaking itself and reviving the brand. And that's exactly what they're planning, according to a dinner briefing Bendix/King gave to journalists Sunday night. They also announced two new products, the KMA30 audio panel and a sophisticated app called MyWingman.

But are these enough for buyers and dealers to sense that Bendix/King is reliably pointed in the right direction? We'll see, I guess. Bendix/King execs acknowledge that they need to remove the tarnish the nameplate acquired from so many years of sparse product intros and delayed deliveries, especially the KSN770 navigator. On the other hand, there's a huge installed base of Bendix/King equipment and beneath the surface ire, I suspect there's continued brand loyalty to be mined.

The difficult question is whether there's meaningful room in the market for products that Garmin isn't already providing. Bendix/King thinks there is, in the form of simpler-to-use, less expensive avionics that integrate tablet devices, that require less training to learn and that tolerate the rust a pilot who flies 50 hours a year just naturally accumulates.

I agree that Garmin is vulnerable here. Being an engineering-driven company, it has tended toward relatively complex interfaces and lacking serious competition in panel mounts, I don't think it has felt much downward pressure on pricing other than OEM squalling. There's a reason just about every new aircraft today has a G1000 and, soon, a G2000. But just look at how, over the course of a few months, the proliferation of tablets knocked about $500 off the intro price of Garmin's mega-portable, the aera796.

But imagining the market slice and serving it are two different things, complicated by maddening certification delays, sometimes fickle customer preferences and the continuing weakness in the GA market. And no one should believe for an instant that Garmin can't or won't respond to a challenge to its dominance.

I hope Bendix/King can pull this off. It's never healthy when one company simply owns any kind of market, as Garmin has for more than a decade. If buyers want less expensive avionics, more competition is the way to get these products.

Avidyne's Slide-in Play
That appears to be the thinking behind Avidyne going after Garmin with its line of slide-in replacements for the uber-popular GNS430 and 530 navigators, of which there are thousands in the field. Avidyne saw an opening because Garmin's GTN line requires a complete new—and expensive—installation. Avidyne's IFD combines the GTN's touchscreen technology with the traditional knobs and keys of the 430/530 series. Just buy the boxes, slide them in, do the paperwork and go fly. It's a great idea, actually. So why didn't Garmin think of it? I've been told by one dealer that Garmin did think of it but, for its own reasons, decided not to run with it. Slide-in replacements have proven a potent marketing idea. Michel Avionics did it with the TKM radios that popped into KX-170 trays and Narco had its own line of slide-ins

To capitalize on this opportunity what Avidyne now needs to do is get busy and deliver these boxes to keep the customer buzz going. Avidyne's Tom Harper said deliveries for the IFD540—the larger of the two boxes—are planned for early 2013.

Comments (7)

I predict that Foreflight and some other apps will eventually be certified on the iPad and then it's all game over for the exorbitant panel mounts. I have a Garmin in my plane, but guess what I use? My Ipad for all navigation/charting/plates. They had a good run, but frankly, why would I pay $15K for a GTN when I can get all of that in Foreflight for $149?

Posted by: Adam Frisch | July 23, 2012 9:02 AM    Report this comment

"...why would I pay $15K for a GTN when I can get all of that in Foreflight for $149?"

Why? Because it's really $549 for starters (plenty of people don't already have an iPad). For another, a handheld is never going to be certified for IFR operations. And as reliable as the iPad may be, I wouldn't want to trust my safety to a consumer-grade piece of hardware. As much as we all may like to say how the regulations and certifications don't accomplish much, there are certain failure modes that certified mounts must pass, and that's a good thing.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | July 23, 2012 10:04 AM    Report this comment

"...a handheld is never going to be certified for IFR operations."

Don't count on that. I remember well when I was told by the Agency that "a television screen never will be approved as a replacement for an HSI."

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | July 24, 2012 5:58 AM    Report this comment

Where are the photos?

I had the same problem last year. You don;t put a convienient hyperlink on either the front page or the blog page that allows a transfer to viewing the photos from Oshkosh. The same holds for Sun-n-Fun.

Some us in the industry do not have video access through our company's web system, so photos are the only way we can view what is going on.

Dave Lamb

Posted by: Dave Lamb | July 24, 2012 6:35 AM    Report this comment

Regarding Gary's comments, I don't think the (supposedly) better reliability of panel mounts is going to stem the onslaught of portable solutions. I think that eventually, people are just going to put the cheapest possible solutions in the panel to be legal, but use portables on a yoke mount or velcro'd to the panel for everyday operations.

I'll stipulate that panel mounts undergo a lot of dedicated testing in an aviation-specific environment, and are probably less likely to fail. But don't make the mistake of comparing the reliability of a single panel mount against a single portable. For a tenth the cost of a panel mount, I can buy two (or even three or four) portable devices, loaded with software and applications. You know all the big web hosting companies buy the cheapest computers they can get for their data centers, and simply throw them away when they fail, right? Furthermore, buying multiple portables has the advantage of providing multiple dedicated screens for PFD vs. moving map vs. weather/traffic, etc., as opposed to constantly switching modes on a single device.

If it were a difference of a few hundred bucks, people might go for the panel mounts. But we're talking five figure differences. Sooner or later, someone is going to have the guts to build a full WAAS approach system into an iPad app, for "advisory purposes only". If they don't immediately get sued out of existence or shut down by the FAA, it's game over for the spendy panel mounts.

Posted by: Vance Harral | July 24, 2012 10:50 AM    Report this comment

Paul, last year Aspen and Bendix/King were saying that they expected the KSN770 (with Aspen's software) to be shipping around now. I would sure appreciate some sort of update on where the product stands, and maybe a video demo of the features, which were basically non-existent last year.

I'm particularly interested to know what sorts of integration Aspen has baked in to go with their Connected Cockpit and Evolution products -- it seems as if Evolution + Connected Cockpit + KSN770 could be a very nice suite, especially if the 770 can act much like a differently-shaped version of Aspen's MFD500.

If you do talk to Aspen, please also ask them about the progress of certification for removal of the back-up AI. I spoke with John Uczekaj last year at OSH, and they were expecting certification within a few months. It's been a year. When are we going to get this long-promised feature?

Posted by: MICHAEL KOBB | July 24, 2012 1:19 PM    Report this comment

I have a C172 trainer with a Garmin GNS430W, it has all that is needed for the instrument rating or VFR flight training. I also have a leaseback C182RG with a recently installed GTN750 plus a GNS530W I to facilitate a smoother transition to the touch screen box. The GNS530W is an outstanding GPS/COMMO/VLOC design. Comparing one to the other, the touch screen featured on the 750 is questionable during any kind of turbulence as I have found that flipping between pages and frequencies at times becomes quite a task and a distraction, having at times to resort to turning knobs again.
I really prefer the 430W or the 530W over the new Garmin touch screen design. Would I buy a $14,500 plug and play replacement for the 430? Probably not, but it is a practical and more economical approach that may decrease Garmin’s marketing energy. Aspen and Bendix/King are marketing a preferable design, they have a good plug and play product approach.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 25, 2012 4:21 AM    Report this comment

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