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Volume 26, Number 13c
March 29, 2019
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Boeing Confirms 737 MAX Software Changes, Defends Design
Marc Cook

Following a rollout of new MCAS software over the weekend for pilots of five airlines operating the 737 MAX, Boeing on Wednesday brought together more than 200 stakeholders to formally discuss the changes and begin making the case for the aircraft to re-enter service.

As we’ve previously reported, the changes to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System will ensure that the system takes data from both angle-of-attack sensors, and that it applies corrective stabilizer trim only once, not repeatedly as originally configured. In addition, Boeing will prepare “computer-based” training that will take about an hour to complete. The company maintains that because the overall handling characteristics of the 737 MAX designs otherwise so closely mirror the predecessor 737s that no simulator training will be required.

At the press conference, Boeing defended the original design, saying that making the MCAS rely on one of two sensors (in effect, creating a single point of failure) was acceptable as long as recovery “can be quickly performed by a trained pilot using established procedures.”

The FAA will review the software changes when Boeing deems them complete, and there is not yet a formal timeline for this to happen.

In the meantime, the FAA’s acting administrator, Dan Elwell, is expected to testify in front of the Senate Commerce Committee today regarding the 737 MAX issues and FAA oversight of the certification process in place for the airliner. Earlier today, the FAA announced that it would audit the 737’s certification and issued this statement: “On March 19, 2019, Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao requested that we initiate an audit to compile an objective and detailed factual history of the activities that resulted in the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX 8. We also received similar requests from several Members of Congress. Our audit objective will be to determine and evaluate FAA’s overall process for certifying the Boeing 737 MAX series of aircraft. In addition, we will identify and undertake future areas of work related to FAA’s actions in response to the crashes as needed.”

Garmin Closes the Deal
Paul Bertorelli

I have no idea if this is how it works, but I imagine someone at Garmin must have said, “Hey, why don’t we just yank the radio out of the GTN navigator and stuff the rest of it into a standard rack-size panel box? Put a pretty display on it.” Maybe someone at an avionics shop suggested it. Wouldn’t have been me, because I’m too much of a dullard to appreciate the potential until it’s explained to me. And maybe not even then.

Whoever thought of it, that’s what the big product news was this week at AEA: Garmin’s new GPS 175—a standalone GPS navigator for $4999 and a companion GTX 375 with all the nav staff, plus a 1090 Mode-S transponder for ADS-B In/Out for $7999. When I saw the press release, I was immediately reminded of what we used to call “parts-bin airplanes.” These were new models lashed together from tried and true components. Piper did it with the Arrow and the Seminole, which were essentially Cherokees. Beech did it with a couple of models, too, as did Cessna with iterations of the Skyhawk.

Some of those airplanes were hot sellers and Garmin’s new boxes seem sure to be, too. The genius is not so much in the navigators themselves as the price-point/capability relationship. They do a lot for not that much money, compared to the more expensive GTN line and compared to what the iconic GNS 400/500 boxes did two decades ago. I was blown away by the GNSs because they were truly market-shifting, but these new navigators are, dare I say it, just two more pretty faces in a long line of pretty faces. I’m in a permanent state of MEGO when it comes to color TFT displays.

I asked Rick Garcia of Gulf Coast Avionics what he thought of them. “Revolutionary” was the word he used, but not to describe capability so much as carving into yet another niche market of buyers who have decent navcomms or radios, but won’t budge on buying anything new because either they think their airplanes aren’t worth the upgrade, they don’t plan to keep them that long or they’re just cheap screws. Or all three.

These owners were never going to buy new GTNs and maybe not Aspen EFDs, either. Some of them were agonizing over a G5 electronic gyro. Some were helping sustain a moderately robust used market in GNS 400/500 series navigators that collapsed Monday morning when Garmin mashed the button on the press release. In fact, AVweb’s very own publisher, Tom Bliss, had just bought a used GPS 400—it’s the GNS 430 without the radio—and planned to return it unopened. And thus, a market is born when none existed before.

Comparing notes with avionics editor Larry Anglisano, we were amusing ourselves with what the avionics industry has wrought. It’s now quite affordable—and practical—to rip the panel out of a 50-year-old Skyhawk and transplant enough sophisticated glass to make it as capable as a new one coming out of Independence for a tiny fraction of the cost. And that includes an autopilot with a dusting of envelope protection. The GPS 175 and GNX 375 are just the two newest shiny objects to wear down buyers who were resisting the urge to do something like that. Garmin has been good at figuring out how to give buyers enough reasons to say, “yeah, I gotta have that.” They cleverly expanded the interface list on these two products to drive all sorts of autopilots and indicators. More on that later.

And here, I’ll climb out on a limb and predict that this year’s edition of AEA marks a turning point for both Garmin and the avionics market overall. Since day one, with Garmin’s first product—the competent if modest GPS 100—Garmin got on the gas and stayed on it. The tempo of its product introduction has varied, but lately has accelerated to the point that it owns everything but the tiniest niches of an avionics market that’s seen healthy growth for the past eight quarters, according to AEA’s market data.

The timing of these two new products may be canny. The ADS-B sugar high will expire toward the middle of 2020, when the fat part of the buying bubble will be over. Shops will need new products to draw in buyers who’ve been doing ADS-B-while-you're-at-it upgrades for the past three years. And, oh look, here comes a couple. I wouldn’t mind seeing some other companies doing the same.

BendixKing Goes…Reseller

As it usually does, BendixKing had a big booth at AEA but … no new products it could exactly call its own. As explained in Kate O’Connor’s podcast, BendixKing has reinvented itself as an aggregator of sorts, a combiner and a reseller of other companies’ products. A quick zip through the booth revealed an Avidyne IFD on display, autopilots from TruTrak and JPI engine monitors, rebranded as AeroCruze and AeroPoint, to match BK’s AeroVue touchscreen system, presumably.

Again, being more or less as thick as a mud fence, I just don’t see how that works as a business plan. Even though Garmin dominates the entire market, Avidyne, Aspen, PS Engineering and other small players compete intensely for their share of the pie. Avidyne and Garmin both get rave reviews from shops for technical support and I’m just not sure you lure buyers away from the mothership by offering better service or an aggregation deal. As Garmin has shown, relentless new product development is what drives growth for a company and the industry.

Not that long ago, BendixKing was the go-to company in avionics. Inexplicably, year by year, it ceded that leadership to Garmin. The company still has an extensive dealership network, but the burnish on its nameplate is a pale shadow of what it once was. Perhaps pairing with these companies can focus BendixKing resources on marketing and certification work, but it will take a bone in the teeth to get that done.

I wish them well, but I’m definitely skeptical.

Boeing Blowback

In this podcast, I interviewed outgoing AEA prez Paula Derks. I couldn’t resist asking if she thought the certification fiasco with the Boeing 737 MAX airplanes would trickle down to affect the world of GA certification.

The ever-gracious Ms. Derks demurred answering a journalist’s inflammatory question. I should have waited, oh, another 10 hours and the answer would have been yes. I bumped into Andrew Barker, who’s having great success getting his heretofore experimental TruTrak autopilots into certified airplanes. He told me the “Boeing delay” has happened to him.

He’s got some certs on the cusp of approval and the FAA is slowing things down for another look at the paperwork and AFM additions. It’s a natural and predictable response to what’s going on in Seattle. And you know what, if it doesn’t blossom into the typical federal case involving more testing, more data and more CYA reports, one last check of any certification isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just ask Boeing.

AEA Rocks

Of all the trade shows I attend, AEA is one of the most organized—a tribute to the people who run the organization. The new product intros are especially well handled and with as many as 30 or 40 a year, placing them all before the audience could be a boring slog.

But AEA gives everyone five minutes and the presenters use it wisely. Lately—past couple of years, I’d say—many of the companies are doing short, professionally produced videos with slick graphics and pounding music. It’s more appealing than an avionics engineer pressed into sales work droning on about, I dunno, cabin amplifiers or lighted switches.

And speaking of droning, I’ll stop right there.

Note to Readers: No, it's not something you said. Because of persistent denial of service attacks against AVweb, we're moving the site to another platform. The commenting section will be unavailable for a time. I apologize for the inconvenience, but the site will be better for it in a week or two. In the meantime, if you have a comment, email me and I'll append it to the blog.

Seaplane Airline Going All Electric
Russ Niles

The world’s largest floatplane-only airline says it will be the first electrically powered airline and will convert its entire fleet of 41 vintage de Havilland Beaver, Otter and Twin Otter aircraft and one Cessna Caravan to electric motors. Harbour Air, which is based in Vancouver, Canada, runs daily scheduled service between Seattle and Vancouver and to various cities on B.C.’s west coast and Vancouver Island. It flies about 500,000 passengers a year. “If you think about it, it’s the evolution of transportation toward electric propulsion,” founder and CEO Greg McDougall told the Vancouver Sun. “The internal combustion engine is all but obsolete, really, for future development. It’s all about electric.”

Harbour Air is teaming with Washington State-based magniX, which has developed a 750-horsepower electric motor and battery pack that gives a maximum endurance of about an hour for the heritage airframes (some of them more than 60 years old) that will carry them. Since most of Harbour Air’s flights are 30 minutes or less, the motors and batteries currently available will serve most routes. “But that’s changing very rapidly with the development of the battery technology,” McDougall said. The airline hopes to fly a prototype Beaver by November and then go for certification for passenger service. “What we’re doing here is retrofitting new technology to older technology. The cost is very similar to us putting a turbine engine on the aircraft, but the big win there is that the electric motor doesn’t have to be rebuilt every 2,500 to 3,000 hours,” he said. “It’s got very few moving parts and it doesn’t consume fossil fuel.”

Video: Garmin G3X Touch Approved For Certified Aircraft
Kate O'Connor

Garmin announced at the 2019 Aircraft Electronics Association Convention that its G3X Touch flight display has been approved for nearly 500 certified aircraft. Garmin's Jessica Koss demonstrated the unit for AVweb at the show.

Podcast: Avidyne Entering New Markets
Kate O'Connor

Avidyne has announced that it will be moving into some new markets, including providing avionics for Part 25 aircraft. Avidyne General Manager of Business Aviation David Miner discussed the new direction with AVweb at the 2019 Aircraft Electronics Association Convention.

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AEA: Dynon Drops Prices On SkyView Classic And SE, Retires Touch
Marc Cook

Dynon Avionics has announced a slight reorganization of its product line with price reductions on two models, the SkyView Classic and SkyView SE, and the discontinuation of the SkyView Touch. Dynon has also said it’s close to receiving approval to fit the SkyView HDX to Beech 35-series airplanes via an STC.

Woodinville, Washington-based Dynon says the SkyView Classic and SE versions will be $200 to $500 less expensive, depending on screen size. Currently, the base Classic starts at $2395 with a 7-inch screen and $2995 with a 10-inch screen. The SE is $1495 with a 7-inch screen and $2495 with a 10-inch screen. Both are non-touchscreen versions of the company’s popular EFIS; the SE is aimed at the VFR pilot and so omits the synthetic vision, extensive mapping and other IFR-related features found on the Classic. As with the HDX, both the Classic and SE can be mated to engine-monitoring modules, autopilot servos and remote-mounted comm radios and transponders.

“We believe these [price] adjustments make for a more competitive lineup that accommodates a wider range of builder budgets and panel plans. Many builders want a reduced, simplified feature set and are targeting a lower budget. Dynon will help them get there,” says Dynon’s VP of Marketing & Sales, Randy Lervold.

The Touch was retired because “As the SkyView line has evolved over the years, it has grown to four different models, including SkyView HDX, SkyView Touch, SkyView Classic and SkyView SE. With SkyView HDX representing our state-of-the-art offering with its enhanced user interface, better display quality and a full touch interface, we felt there was unnecessary overlap in the model lineup. With the avionics market getting ever more competitive, we’ve decided to trim the line to make the product model steps clearer and at the same time sharpen the price points on our original SkyView family models,” says Lervold.

Meanwhile, the company continues to expand its base of STC-approved installations. Dynon already has STC approval to install the SkyView HDX in a long list of Cessna 172 models (and the D10A and D100 are approved as replacement attitude indicators or standby instruments now) but the company now expects to have approval in hand for installations covering Beech’s 35-series Bonanzas “in the coming weeks.” Next on the list are the Beech A36 models and the Piper Seneca; Dynon says the Piper should be approved in the first half of 2019. After that comes the Cessna 182 series, with an expected approval date “before the end of 2019.”

Podcast: GoGo Business Aviation
Kate O'Connor

Between 2009 and 2017, GoGo Business Aviation delivered more than 4,000 connectivity systems. At AEA's 2019 convention, AVweb talked with GoGo Regional Sales Manager John Hinton about the company, its products and where it's headed in the future.

Pence Lays Out Five-Year Deadline For Moon Return
Tim Cole

Vice President Mike Pence upended NASA’s self-imposed 2028 schedule for a return to the moon on Tuesday when he directed NASA to accomplish the task within the next five years. “We’re actually being told the earliest we can get back to the moon is 18 years after the Space Launch System (SLS) was started, and eleven years after the president of the United States directed NASA to return American astronauts to the moon. That’s just not good enough,” Pence said.

The SLS will be the biggest rocket NASA has ever created and is designed for deep-space journeys to Mars and beyond. It is years behind schedule and over budget. Pence issued the call to action for a 2024 moon landing at a Huntsville, Alabama, conclave of the National Space Council, and follows President Donald Trump’s Space Policy Directive No. 1 issued in December of 2017.

Pence cited frustrations with SLS delays, and declared a willingness to turn to private sector initiatives to field a suitable rocket if Boeing’s SLS isn’t ready.

Interest in a moon return was revived in January when China successfully landed their Chang’e 4 rover on the far side of the moon, a feat of technical proficiency that appears to have revived interest in accelerating an American return to the lunar surface.

Space policy experts are calling the Pence plan ambitious and expensive. According to John Logsdon, a space policy expert from George Washington University: “Presidential support is a necessary ingredient for this endeavor. We will see if it is sufficient. Congress is an equal partner in making these decisions.”

FAA Proposes Rule To Streamline Commercial Space Operations
Kate O'Connor

The FAA has proposed a new rule that aims to “streamline and increase flexibility” in federal commercial space transportation regulations. The FAA says the rule would “consolidate and revise” existing regulations along with defining safety requirements and how to get and maintain a vehicle operator license for commercial space travel. The rule (PDF) was developed from proposals by the Streamlined Launch and Re-entry Licensing Requirements Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which was formed by the FAA last year.

“Ingenuity and innovation have always fueled our nation’s success in space travel,” said FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell. “This proposed rule ensures that a commercial space rocket is not tethered to a launch pad with unnecessary red tape.” Once published in the Federal Register, the rule will be open for public comment for 60 days.

According to the FAA, its Office of Commercial Space Transportation has currently licensed or permitted more than 370 launches, reentries and launch sites in the U.S. The agency also announced that 2018 was the “most productive” year for U.S. commercial space travel yet with 32 FAA-licensed launches, three re-entries and two new launch sites. The FAA is predicting up to 40 licensed commercial space transportation activities in the coming year.

AEA: Trig Introduces New Nav/Comms
Kate O'Connor

Trig Avionics officially introduced its new TX56A and TX57A navcomms at the 2019 Aircraft Electronics Association Convention in Palm Springs, California, on Monday. The TX56A is a 10-watt unit while the TX57A is a 16-watt unit for aircraft with a 28-volt supply. Features include automatic ident decoding, two-frequency monitoring for both com and nav frequencies, and a built-in digital course deviation indicator (CDI).

The units also offer configurable databases for frequencies and identifiers via USB upload and Trig’s "Say Again" feature, which replays the last received VHF communication received. “The TX56A navcomm is a significant addition to our product family,” said Trig Avionics CEO Andy Davis. “Pilots can now install an entire Trig stack in their aircraft.”

The company is aiming to begin shipping the new navcomms later this summer. List price for the TX56A is $3,595. The TX57A is priced at $4,395. The company also debuted a new CDI, called the TI106, and the TA50, a compact GPS antenna.

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