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Avionics sales worldwide had a slower start to 2016, the Aircraft Electronics Association reported Wednesday during the opening of its 59th annual convention in Orlando. In the first three months of the year, total avionics sales for business and general aviation totaled just over $566 million, a 3.6 percent drop from the first quarter of 2015. The first-quarter totals include $256.4 million in sales for retrofit installations and $309.6 million in forward-fit sales, which are avionics installations that are part of newly manufactured aircraft.áThe sales figures are compiled from reports by more than 20 companies in the industry and include electronics installations for all hardware as well as software upgrades for cockpits and cabins in certified and non-certified aircraft. "It's disappointing that total worldwide sales are off to a slower start compared to the first three months a year ago," AEA President Paula Derks said. "Sales in the forward-fit market were nearly identical to last year, so the overall decline was mostly felt in the retrofit market."á

Still, the four-day show began with enthusiasm and a sold-out show area that will open Thursday with more than 135 exhibitors. Thirty companies presented their new products Wednesday, highlighting some recent announcements by well-known names including Garmin, which showed off its recently released aera 660 portable GPS navigator, and Avidyne'sáIFD-100 iPad app introduced earlier this month.áCockpit connectivity products are on the rise, including those that offer cabin amenities for business aircraft such asáSend Solutions' Airtext, which uses satellite networks to allow passengers to send and receive cellphone text messages anywhere in the world.

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Aspen Avionics' Evolution Backup Display now has an STC for installation in certified aircraft, the company announced at this week's Aircraft Electronics Association show. The system is an independent primary flight display designed to replace traditional vacuum-driven backup instruments. The unit can provide two hours of continuous operation as an emergency backup. "If the primary cockpit EFIS system fails, transitioning to a glass backup display rather than a mechanical instrument will be much more intuitive and less stressful in emergency situations," the company says.

The basic system, which retails for $5,995, includes attitude, altitude and airspeed tapes, directional gyro, turn coordinator, VSI and GPS flight plan overlay. The advanced system at $8,995 has additional features including dual radio magnetic indicators, an HSI, localizer and glide slope indicator and emergency GPS. The system has been installed in new-production Piper aircraft over the past four years.

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At this week's Aircraft Electronics Association show in Orlando, L-3 Avionics showcased its recent advancements in certified products that pack multiple functions into lighter, smaller boxes. The ESI-500 standby instrument, designed for piston and turboprop aircraft along with rotorcraft, offers what amounts to a primary flight display backup with primary instrument data as well as navigation and synthetic vision. The unit, when packaged with a data configuration module and installation kit, retails for about $6,100. L-3 also announced two new features to its ADS-B-compliant NGT-9000 transponder -- full traffic and terrain awareness systems rolled into the touch-screen unit.á

See video demonstrations of the ESI-500 and NGT-9000 here.

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Delta Air Lines decreed there is a viable competitor to the duopoly of Airbus and Boeing in the single-aisle airliner market with a major deal with Canada's Bombardier. The airline ordered 75 of Bombardier's 110-seat CS100 airliners and took options on 50 more with a further option to upgrade those orders to 737-esque CS300s with 160 seats. In a news conference announcing the deal at Bombardier's facility in Mirabel, Quebec, incoming Delta CEO Ed Bastian called the Canadian company "a third competitor" for the small end of the mainstream airliner market. "And we're thrilled to have that choice in the marketplace," he said.

By Boeing and Airbus standards, the order is significant but doesn't threaten their dominance, considering their decade-long backlog for single-aisle aircraft. However, Delta will have its new CS100s in 2018 and capitalize on the 20 percent fuel burn reductions per seat mile they offer before its competitors can get their hands on new A320 Neo and 737 MAX airplanes that will offer similar savings. The new Bombardiers are also quieter than existing designs. The order was a huge boost to the Bombardier program, which has struggled with delays and budget overruns. Its home province of Quebec has taken a $1 billion stake in the program to help see it through production and the company has also asked Canada's federal government for a similar investment.

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Last week, a drone reportedly hit an Airbus A320 on approach to London's Heathrow Airport, but so far, there have been no officially confirmed drone strikes involving U.S. aircraft. However, witnesses have told AVweb that a drone did hit a hot-air balloon in flight, during a festival in Vermont in July 2014, causing damage to the fabric envelope. The pilot had just launched, and was about 150 feet off the ground. He landed immediately, and nobody was hurt. "It was a brand-new balloon, and the impact damaged eight panels," balloon repairman Paul Stumpf told AVweb this week. "There were a lot of little slices in the fabric, but they were small … the biggest one was less than six inches wide."

Nevertheless, repairs had to be made before the balloon could fly again. A second balloon, which was still on the ground preparing to launch, also was damaged, Stumpf said. The drone operator paid for all the repairs, he added. The FAA has been working to get operators to register their drones and to educate them about safety, while NASA has been developing technologies that aim to automate safe separation of manned aircraft and drones in the National Airspace System.

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Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something the flying world might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via e-mail here. (Or send them direct to Newstips at AVweb.com.)

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Let's assume you had a cash budget of up to $160,000 to buy an airplane. Your short list of required equipment includes a glass cockpit with autopilot, a modern interior, plus a proven engine that's easy to service and economical to operate. You'll use the plane for local flying, short trips and perhaps some basic instrument training.

But since you want to buy on the cheap, you might consider models in the upper end of the LSA category and those in the lower end of the Standard category. Two that come to mind are the Flight Design CTLS and the early-generation G1000 Cessna 172S Skyhawk. Both have a high-wing design, glass cockpit and cruise at comparable speeds.

Is the LSA cheaper to maintain and operate? In this article we'll get a close look at both models to find out, while assuming both are purchased in used condition. We think it's worth considering a new CTLS, given the three-year factory warranty.

Mission Realities

First, the sales-leading (in category) Flight Design CTLS. It's been in production since 1997 and there are close to 2000 airplanes flying. A well-equipped 2014 model sells for around $170,000, while a late-2000s model can sell for as little as $90,000 when equipped with popular options, including advanced avionics.

As with most models in the LSA category, there are two major limitations that you'll need to accept. With two seats, you're limited to traveling with one passenger, while choosing your baggage sparingly and loading it creatively.

The CTLS has a composite structure and a 49-inch-wide cabin with gull wing doors. With a 34-gallon tank, you can fly it roughly 800 miles at full cruise power. Published top speed is 120 knots, although several CTLS owners told us they often see slightly higher speeds. The base model is powered by the 100-HP, liquid-cooled Rotax 912s. It's a 2000-hour-TBO engine that can sip premium unleaded, including E10 ethenol blends. It can also burn 100LL, with some maintenance penalties. More on that later.

Fuel burn can be as low as 4.3 GPH at lower power settings, although 5-5.5 GPH is more conservative. For 2014, there is an option for the fuel-injected Rotax 912 iS, in addition to the turbocharged 914T. Both of these engines have a 2000-hour TBO. We'll use the carbureted Rotax 912s engine in our comparison because the 912 iS wasn't available in earlier models.

Unless you hold a private pilot certificate, you're limited to daytime VFR flying (the CTLS is approved and equipped for night flying). Since the CTLS is certified in the U.S. under the SLSA category (Special Light Sport Aircraft), you can put it on a flight line for lease back, where it can be used for training and rental. It's a popular model for these purposes and every flight school we talked with had positive things to say about the CTLS it operates—especially the per-hour operating costs and high dispatch reliability.

The venerable Cessna Skyhawk still soldiers on in Cessna's single-engine line (that line started in 1956) and a 2014 model has a sticker price that closes in on $400,000. When we scoured the used market, we found many first-generation G1000 172S models in decent shape with mid-time engines. The all-glass Hawks with the Nav III glass option hit the market in late 2005.

It's not unheard of to buy one with a higher airframe time for as little as $125,000, particularly if it's well-worn and has come off a flight school training line. A clean G1000 172S with a mid-time engine is realistically going to cost more like $160,000. That's valued considerably higher than a used CTLS.

But face it, the glass Skyhawk could offer more for that initial investment. It has a broader mission profile since it's approved for day and night VFR and IFR. It also has four seats and a bigger payload. Of course, you'll need a private pilot certificate and a current FAA medical to fly one, at least under the current medical certification standards.

The 172S has a 180-HP fuel-injected Lycoming IO-360-L2A engine and despite Lycoming's SI 1070 service letter that approves operating on mogas, the aircraft isn't approved for it. With its 890-pound useful load and a 50-gallon fuel capacity, typical speeds for newer Skyhawk's average around 125 knots.

Avionics

The CTLS is available with a variety of glass cockpit options. Early models (pre-2010) had the Dynon D100-D120 package, which included the EFIS100 PFD and EMS120 engine monitoring system. There's also the popular two-axis autopilot option, digital transponder and Garmin SL30 navcomm radio. Newer models are available with what Flight Design calls the Advanced Avionics Package, to include the Dynon Skyview. There's also the Garmin G3X. But the Skyview, with a dual-screen 10-inch PFD and MFD is closer in function to the G1000. It can play traffic and weather overlay, plus it has digital engine monitoring. Flight Design offers an option for Garmin's GTN750 or 650 navigator. Don't expect to find them in older models, which might be lightly equipped with only a Garmin portable GPS, a single radio and a transponder.

The G1000 suite in the first glass Skyhawk didn't have WAAS GPS, although a Cessna service bulletin accommodates the installation of dual WAAS receiver modules and the required antenna work. That project can top $20,000.

The avionics suite also included the Bendix King KAP140 autopilot. The owners we talked with reported substantial repair costs associated with it, including pricey servo motor replacements. A single servo (the KAP140 has three) could easily top $2000. There's also a variety of software updates that might be required for the G1000. You'll pay for shop labor to bring the system up to the current revision, in addition to an annual navigation database subscription. This costs $600 (Dynon offers free updates for the Skyview).

As we reported in the August 2013 issue of Aviation Consumer, it's worth considering an extended warranty for the G1000. The coverage can pay for itself in a single repair and has to be purchased from Cessna through a service center.

Insurance

Chris Arnold at the Hartford, Connecticut-based Sutton James aircraft insurance agency worked up a theoretical insurance quote for both aircraft. He assumed the operator for either aircraft is a 250-hour certificated private pilot, with 10 hours in make and model, plus has a clean accident history.

For a used CTLS with a $100,000 hull value, we were quoted $1617 for an annual policy. This includes a $1 million/$100,000 per passenger liability limit. With no passenger sublimit, the policy jumps to $2098.

For the Skyhawk that has a $170,000 hull value, the same coverage is $1300 and $1828, respectively.

Why does the lesser LSA cost more to insure? Arnold suspects there's uncertainty about how the LSA will hold up over time. Moreover, the Cessna has a more definitive (and perhaps more favorable) accident track record.

"The Skyhawk is a well-known entity and insurance companies know the costs that are associated with it. This allows them to project the potential losses—both in severity and frequency—because there's a long history," he said.

We think the Flight Design, by nature of its design, is at a disadvantage because of its composite build. Not surprisingly, composite structures are more costly to repair than metal ones. According to Arnold, claims that result from runway prangs (damage to landing gear, for example) are fairly common. Whether or not insurance companies are spooked by pilots flying without an FAA medical—and if it's factored into the rates—is unknown. We think it shouldn't matter.

Maintenance

Several shops told us that annual inspections or a 100-hour inspection on a CTLS should cost approximately $700-$900. Keep in mind that if you operate a CTLS in a flight school environment, the 100-hour inspection is required. Otherwise, it's an annual inspection.

We spoke with Dean Vogel at Lockwood Aviation in Sebring, Florida, who told us his busy Rotax shop usually flat-rates the 100-hour inspection on the 912s engine at $450. Of course, that won't cover items that need replacement. In addition, there's a one-time, 25-hour required inspection on every new 912s engine that's put into service. The checklist for that inspection is the same as a 100-hour check.

We couldn't get definitive costs for an annual on a G1000 Skyhawk (above a bare-bones inspection, which can be as low as $900) from any shop, although owners tell us that $1500-$2500 annuals are pretty common. Not surprisingly, upkeep for the G1000 can be pricey. One owner commented about the costs and efforts to keep the G1000 software up to date. "It took my shop a full day to load new software into the suite. That yielded a $1100 invoice," he told us.

The CTLS has a few milestone maintenance events, including the 6-year BRS parachute repack service. According to Flight Design, it's a $1000 job. There's also the 1000-hour gearbox inspection—reduced to 600 hours—if the engine is operated more than 50-percent of the time on 100LL fuel. Lockwood quoted us $300 for this work. The carburetors require a 200-hour disassembly inspection. The $250 service covers cleaning and synchronization.

The Rotax 912s engine has a five-year hose replacement interval, with an average cost of $4000. There's also a 1500-hour mandatory propeller inspection that runs $450, on average.

If the Rotax is operated almost exclusively on mogas, and the oil is synthetic or at least semi-synthetic, the oil and filter changes come at 100 hour intervals. Burn 100LL more than 30 percent of the time and the oil and filter changes come at 50 hours. Burn 100LL more than 50 percent of the time and you'll be changing the oil and filter every 25 hours, due to the lead content. The filters are roughly $23 and the oil is roughly $10 per quart/liter (capacity is roughly three quarts). Owners report that the 912s burns little if any oil between intervals. Speaking of fluids, Rotax recommends readily available automotive lubricants and coolants, which, as most owners can attest, helps keep costs low, but can be difficult to find at a typical FBO.

Field Reports

When it comes to reliability, costs and ease of maintenance, nearly every Flight Design operator we talked with—commercial and private—raved about the CTLS. Much of that praise is directed toward the Rotax 912s. Tim Busch, owner of Iowa Flight Training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has a late 1990s CTLS, plus several Skyhawks on his busy training and rental line.

"If you take capital costs off the table and simply compare the hourly operating costs, I would replace my entire fleet with CTLS aircraft," Bush told us. He's carefully watching costs.

"I've run the numbers every which way and the CTLS comes out on top every time. The maintenance costs, for one thing, is far lower on the CTLS than it is on the Skyhawk. While there's just not that much to do in comparison to the Lycoming, parts costs for the Rotax 912 engine are so much lower it's silly," said Busch.

That was a theme we heard from every Rotax owner we talked with, particularly when comparing service items like fluids, spark plugs and other miscellaneous maintenance supplies. Still, that doesn't make the Rotax maintenance-free.

"The Rotax isn't exactly a simple engine and I've had a few issues, but I think its modern design (compared to the engine in my old Mooney) adds a level of consumer confidence that I just didn't have when I brought my Mooney in for service," said Ian Ballantine about the Rotax engine in his Remos LSA.

Lockwood's Vogel has enough experience with Rotax invoices to put a hard number on engine reserves. "I usually coach people to simply use $10 per hour as a safe engine reserve toward a 2000-hour TBO. That way, if they do an engine exchange for somewhere in the neighborhood of $17,000, they've got another $3000 cushion to cover labor and most other materials that might get changed out during the swap," he said.

While we recognize the benefits of operating the Rotax, we also think it's easier to find support for the Skyhawk and its Lycoming. What aircraft mechanic doesn't know how to work on a 172? That won't be the case for the Flight Design.

A CTLS running on automotive fuel, in addition to the economical fuel burn, contributes to a sizable savings in hourly fuel costs. Using a conservative 5.5 GPH at an average of $3.90 per gallon of premium unleaded results in a $21.45 per-hour fuel cost. The Cessna, burning $5.80 per-gallon 100LL (at 8 GPH) ends up costing $46.40 per hour.

Hourly maintenance costs can be a little trickier to nail. We looked at the numbers provided by a couple of flight schools that perform much of their own maintenance on the CTLS. If you factor $10 per hour for a Rotax engine reserve, oil changes, 100-hour inspections and the major milestone maintenance events, operators realistically budget hourly costs of $60 (the CTLS generally rents for around $100 per hour). We uncovered just a few issues related to the Dynon avionics, including a failed transponder in one Skyview panel, but Dynon covered it under warranty.

Hourly maintenance figures for the G1000 Skyhawk was considerably higher, at roughly $115 on average. Most operators factor $18-$20 reserve for the Lycoming, plus additional costs for avionics maintenance and a mandatory service for the Amsafe airbag seatbelts.

Interestingly, all of the Cessna owners complained about having to replace broken plastic interior components—a problem that's plagued Cessna interiors for years. We'll cover sources for aftermarket plastic in an upcoming issue.

In general, all of the Skyhawk operators we talked with noted reliable dispatch and a trouble-free experience. That's in line with what we've always known about the Skyhawk, although we think the G1000 adds sizable amounts of complexity and potential upkeep costs.

Choose Your Mission

We can't recommend one aircraft over another because they don't have the same mission. We can say the Skyhawk offers far more utility when it comes to weather, payload and growth potential for new pilots. It's also easy to service.

If none of that matters to your mission, we think an advanced LSA like the Flight Design CTLS wins for overall savings. The freedom to fly it without FAA medical certification is an added bonus.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Aviation Consumerámagazine.

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How did this whole "brand" thing come about, anyway? When Coca-Cola and General Motors became iconic American companies as far back as the 1920s, was anybody talking about the actual word "brand"? In college during the 1970s and in my early years in journalism, I hardly recall the word itself ever being used in normal conversation.

But now, you can hardly crack the door on a press conference without hearing someone talk about brands and the importance of burnishing, defending, enhancing, extending or creating same. I thought of this last week when I was attending a Cirrus press conference where Ben Kowalski, the company's marcomm guy, was describing a new customer delivery and service center Cirrus is erecting in Knoxville. It's meant to be a high order facility where a Cirrus owner—including the soon-to-be jet owners—can dodge the icy blasts of Duluth (in June) and visit geographically centered Knoxville for service, training, aircraft acceptance and even order specing. It's a great idea and well in keeping with what Cirrus does as a company. Notice I didn't say "brand."

When Kowalski threw up a slide saying Cirrus was thinking of the kind of positive brand resonance that Apple, Audi, Starbucks and Tesla have in their respective markets, I almost thought he had it backward. Frankly, as a customer of three of those companies, I honestly think they're more about image than exceptional product where Cirrus, in my view, is more about product and less about image. Branding is sometimes a sleight of hand where a company seeks to have a customer think of something that is somehow larger than the product itself. Probably, some customers respond to that kind of massage, but I'm not one of them.áIt seems to me if you deliver the product, as Coca-Cola did, as GM did and as any of a dozen other such companies do, the image more or less takes care of itself. You don't need MBAs hiring junior marketeers to dream up "brand enhancement."

Having erected this tiny little soapbox, I shall now mount it, starting with Apple. This blog is being written on a MacBook Pro from notes recorded on an iPhone. In my home office, I have an iMac. Clearly, I am an Apple user but I am also as far from a fanboy as it's possible to get. All of these products are functional enough, but they are overpriced, overhyped and festooned with flaws. I would give the company an A+ in sales and marketing, a lukewarm B- for support and reliability. Why do I persist in using them? Because they're a little less worse than the competition. When I see people camping on the sidewalk the night before to get the new iPhone, I see people whose lives don't seem to be happening, not a brand I'm pining to be associated with. Please, just make the next %$*&^$ iOS have fewer fatal flaws.

And Audi. Let me stop giggling so I can continue. My wife and I owned an A4 once. It was, by performance measure, a terrific car. Handled well and was a hoot to drive. Maintenance-wise, it was a service writer's wet dream. When I was under the car one day banging the tabs of the drooping plastic air dam back in place for the fifth time with a rubber mallet, I suspected that the Audi "brand" was an apparently high-quality car, but one that was in fact cheap to build with a high margin. In other words, image trumped reality. When the heater core burst its seams slightly after the warranty expired, necessitating removal of the entire interior to the firewall, my suspicion was confirmed in a mist of sickly sweet glycol. It's OK to project an image of Úlan and quality, but you gotta walk the walk.

The point is that when a company becomes brand conscious, it's almost as though the brand itself is self-aware and the product merely tags along. Increasingly, I think if all the effort goes to the product and the people who buy it—which Cirrus seems to do pretty well—the brand takes care of itself.

Of course, as a professional crank, I am predisposed to see through all the hype that often puffs up "branding" like an overinflated bus tire and to merely ask if the company delivers a good product and treats its customers right. Based on contacts I've had with Cirrus owners, I'd say the company does that. It has a loyal community. But I'm probably the only person in the universe who thinks that next time Apple has one of its big, overhyped and contrived product announcements, it ought to throw up a slide with a Cirrus logo.

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At Aero 2016 in Friedrichshafen, Germany, a company called Skyleader was showing a wild scale knockoff of an L-39 Albatross called the UL-39 Albi. It's equipped with a 13-blade ducted fan powered by a BMW motorcycle engine. AVweb shot this video on this unique airplane.

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