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.
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.
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.
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.
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