AirVenture 2012: Cubs Shine, Avionics Buzz
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.
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.