June 2016 Issue

The Crossover Avionics Market

It’s time to drop the ambiguous “experimental” label that follows avionics without a TSO and ones that started life in the experimental aircraft category. Is the experiment whether or not the equipment is going to kill you while flying in the clag? I think we’re past all that. Besides, the FAA’s experimental category is for aircraft and includes special airworthiness certification issued to operate an aircraft that doesn’t have a type certificate. There’s really no category for avionics. But there are STCs and the FAA is now issuing them for so-called experimental avionics—or those not previously approved for installation in type-certified aircraft. Perhaps we can call this new breed crossover avionics, since they cross the market line.

As we reported in the May 2016 issue of Aviation Consumer, the announcement by the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) and Dynon Avionics that it earned FAA STC approval to install Dynon’s non-certified EFIS-D10A system in a variety of FAA-certified aircraft (through an approved model list, or AML) is a breakthrough for affordable avionics in existing Part 23 aircraft. In my 30-plus years working in this industry, I’m not sure I’ve witnessed an announcement of this proportion. EAA Chairman Jack Pelton said there are more products that will eventually cross the market and follow the D10A into the panels of certified aircraft.

The EAA/Dynon regulatory home run opens the doors for other avionics manufacturers—including Garmin—to earn their own STCs for installation of uncertified avionics. You can bet they are already busy making this happen. For well-established companies like Garmin (with plenty of experience earning STC approvals), it should be easy, but perhaps not so easy for new companies. Earning an STC is no easy task and EAA’s Pelton made it clear that it won’t be a free-for-all and the FAA will be selective. Like Dynon’s D10A (it had a 10-year run), I suspect existing products will have the advantage when it comes to winning an STC.

Garmin’s G3X Touch integrated experimental avionics suite (that’s the G3X Touch installed in a Lancair Evolution turboprop pictured above) is one system that I’m certain we’ll eventually see, in one form or another, installed in mainstream Part 23 aircraft, both as OEM equipment and for aftermarket retrofit. On a more basic level—and as a potential direct competitor for Dynon’s D10A retrofit EFIS—is Garmin’s $2000 uncertified G5 electronic flight instrument.

After evaluating the G5 in Garmin’s RV-7 during a recent factory visit, someone asked if I thought the G5 flight instrument was worthy for installation in a certified aircraft because, after all, it’s for experimentals. That’s a silly question because if the instrument is good enough for an airplane like the RV-7—and countless other experimental models that fly in actual IFR conditions—it’s surely worthy for installation in a Bonanza, Skylane, M20J and countless other familiar Part 23 models that fly in the same conditions. Since it granted Dynon the AML-STC for the D10A EFIS for primary, standalone use (VFR and IFR), the FAA obviously concurs. Why the change of heart after years of regulatory roadblocks? Progress, that’s why.

Paul Dye, my counterpart at sister publication Kitplanes and an expert on all things in the experimental market, reminded me that the agency can’t continue to ignore uncertified EFIS systems. Even despite not knowing the parts or software pedigree, the FAA’s creative talent (there are plenty of forward thinkers) recognize that uncertified equipment is miles ahead of even the best vacuum-driven systems in terms of reliability. Bleeding uncertified equipment into the Part 23 market is merely a bonus for folks with lower-end aircraft who can’t afford the prices of certified hardware. It’s about time an alphabet group stepped up to make it happen. A tip of the editorial hat to EAA for tearing down a barrier and creating the new crossover market segment.