Buy Now Or Wait?

Were talking about major avionics upgrades. If you want to trade-in recent vintage digital avionics, the time may be right.

In the heart of every avionics marketing exec, there lives a dream, the commercial equivalent of Nirvana: Some Monday morning in the near future, every aircraft owner will awaken with the burning need to buy a suite of GPS mapcomms, complete with a new audio panel and all the hooks for more as-yet-to-be-announced gadgets.

Its not like the industry isnt ready to deliver. As of this summer, theres unprecedented choice in new avionics; a box for every purpose at every price. The only thing missing is customers. Although avionics upgrading is clearly on a brisk upswing, the tidal wave of bottomless demand looms just over the horizon.

For avionics shops, this is a good problem to have. Many are already busy enough and with the serious new business yet to come, were not hearing any complaints. For aircraft owners, however, sitting on the upgrade-or-not fence is getting more precarious, especially those with late model digital gear with significant trade-in value.

The used market is showing signs of price volatility and some used equipment is getting difficult or impossible to sell, thus if youve decided to upgrade and havent gotten around to it just yet, you may be losing a little trade-in value with each passing month.

Waiting for What?
Its not often that a single avionics product shakes up the entire market enough to have a noticeable impact but Garmins well-received GNS 430 seems to have done just that. In less than a year, its acted like a veritable sales enema in breaking lose pent-up demand. Garmin is only now catching up a six-month backlog of 430 orders.

We suspect theres some coat tailing going on, as well, with Apollo (aka UPS Aviation Technologies) enjoying some spillover for its GX- and SL-series equipment. The sales people tell us this hasnt quite touched off a buying frenzy, but clearly demand is on the rise, trickling more used gear into the market as owners move up and trade in.

Yet most owners who may have decided to upgrade are still waiting, although for what were not sure. For the next year at least, we dont expect to see significant changes in prices nor do we expect any world shakers such as the Garmin 430. Garmins 420-same GPS and color map as the 430, sans ILS/Nav-will be along next year, offering some additional flexibility in upgrading a panel with older gear still in place, but little else. Garmin will also release the GPS 400, same as the 430, but without the comm. (Price: $6795 retail.)

Whats likely to change most over the next year is the volume of used avionics on the market, as owners defray the sting of a pair of new 430s or other new equipment by trading in recent-vintage digital gear. Curiously, the shops and used dealers weve talked to havent seen a flood of this stuff yet, but expect to. On some equipment, this will depress prices, making trade-ins worthless, if that hasnt happened already.

Whats Hot, Whats Not?
Although we had expected used gear prices to plummet by now, some of it is in fact holding its own and even appreciating a little. Surprisingly, our dealer survey showed high demand and strong prices for Bendix/Kings venerable KX 155, what can honestly be described as the standard modern digital navcomm.

I tell ya what, one used radio dealer told us, I can sell every used KX 155 you can bring through the door, particularly the 14-volt versions. Twenty-eight volt units sit on the shelf a little longer. But not much.

Nor are the owners buying those used boxes getting especially good deals, since a used KX 155 with glideslope and indicator sells for as much as 80 or 90 percent of the new price. Given the number of cutting-edge GPS navcoms on the market, we find this somewhat baffling.

I cant explain it either, says Jeff Kellish, of United Radio in Syracuse, New York. Its almost as if the market hasnt figured any of this out yet. Kellish reports that more than a few buyers still insist on installing new KX 155s.

What this means is that if you happen to be sitting on a pair of these radios in your panel right now, peak trade-in value is upon us and theyll sell quickly. But everyone cautions that the party will eventually end, possibly within a year or 18 months.

If you own a couple of mint KX 170Bs, the party ended quite a while ago. Were told that the used prices of these units have dropped precipitously during the past year and that the used market is likely to soon dry up. If your shop says no thanks to a trade in, its nothing personal, just supply and demand at work.

One theory holds that the prices of used KX 155s will remain high for the foreseeable future because owners of older airframes and flivvers not normally flown IFR will snap them up as upgrades to replace older Bendix/King and Narco equipment.

Frankly, we wouldnt count on it, since even those owners will have to eventually wake up and realize that newer equipment is competitive in price with far more features. The older strata of the fleet will certainly soak up digital navcomms, but we doubt the prices will hold.

More Surprises
Another short-term trend that has dealers shaking their heads in wonderment is continued demand for used ADF and DME. Although neither is needed to be legal for IFR, some owners are still requesting new DME and, occasionally, a new ADF.

On the used market, late-model ADF and DME-especially Bendix/Kings KR 87 and KN 63 digital models-still retain trade-in value. Weve seen used KR 87s with tray and indicator selling for as much as $2400 with the average being closer to $1800, a great deal for an owner trading one in, an awful value for a buyer. As United Radios Kellish told us, this wont last forever, as buyers of obsolete used gear figure out that they dont need this stuff.

For the life of me, I dont why theres this much demand for ADF, says Dewey Conroy at Pacific Coast Avionics, a major national dealer.

Even some Narco navcomms-which have taken a beating in the new and used market-are retaining a degree of used value, especially the 121/122 series, which combine an indicator and receiver in the same unit. Because of their panel space-saving potential, these units are unique and popular among some owners.

But theres a limit to what people will pay for Narco, says Vince Veltri at Eastern Avionics International. They really hurt themselves with their service policies. Another type of box whose value has tanked is rho-theta RNAV. As recently as a year ago, clean Bendix/King KNS 80s were bringing more than $3000 on the used market, with a trade-in value of perhaps two thirds that amount.

Youll still see them in Trade-A-Plane at those prices. In the past six months, KNS 80 sales prices have plummeted, although dealers say demand and prices are spotty. Dont count on much trade-in value, if the shop will even take one.

On the Chin
While owners of recent-model Bendix/King navcomms, ADFs and DME are sitting relatively pretty for now with regard to trade-in value, owners who installed first-generation IFR GPS as recently as two years ago have seen these boxes decline sharply in value. (Many dont know that yet and will be shocked when they shop for new equipment.)

Three years ago, the Bendix/King KLN 90B was the alpha dog of IFR GPS, with a $8000 installed price. Trade one in today and you can expect a $2500 credit and a soft offer at that. Bendix/Kings popular KLN 89B hasnt fared much better, selling used in the $2000 to $2600 range, with trade-in credits somewhat below that.

Other big losers include IIMorrows 2001, an early C129 box with quirky operating logic and Trimbles TNL 2000, another lukewarm seller whose used value has been depressed by Trimbles decision to abandon the light aircraft avionics market. Actually, the TNL 2000 is a decent receiver, in our view, but with future support in doubt, its used market value looks bleak.

Garmins first IFR GPS entry, the 155, evidently hasnt come on the used market in large volume yet but was never a huge seller anyway. Dont expect to recover more than half of what you invested in a new install, if that. We probably dont need to say this but we will anyway. If you have loran in the panel, its essentially worthless as a trade-in. Wheel chocks, says Jeff Kellish. But believe it or not, a top-of-the-line model such as Bendix/Kings KLN 88 may bring $300 to $500 if sold by the owner on the open market.

Good Deals, Bad Deals
Leading us to comment on some good deals out there: Yup, a used KLN 88 loran. Although we dont think it makes any sense to install loran in anything, if youve got an old Cherokee 140 or an ancient 172, popping a KLN 88 loran into the panel-a unit that originally installed for $5500 or so-is actually a bargain, if you can do the install on the cheap. Dont pay more than $1000, complete. See if your shop can locate one for you rather than buying from the classifieds, where prices appear to be unrealistically inflated.

The loran network will be available for at least eight more years and even if you get only a couple of years of service out of whats a first-rate loran, you can trash it and still claim victory. We wouldnt consider any other used loran, however. (Possible exception: a Northstar M1, which you can pick up for a song.)

In general, the best deals on used navigators will be GPS panel mounts such as Bendix/Kings KLN 90B and 89B. If you own one, our condolences. If you want to buy one used, the prices are still a bit high in our view but we expect theyll be coming down during the next 18 months. (KLN 90Bs are being advertised in the $4500 range, used. We think you can do better.)

Both are excellent IFR GPSs that will be serviceable for the foreseeable future, complete with approaches. Neither will be WAAS capable, but who cares? Worth watching is the Garmin GPS 155, a fair-to-middling IFR navigator that was solid if not spectacular. We havent seen many on the used market yet but imagine theyll sell for $2000 or less when owners start dumping them.

If you insist on DME-we cant imagine why, but its your airplane-consider a KNS 80 RNAV. Youll get VOR, DME and a glideslope receiver and there are enough of them coming onto the market to make haggling on price worth the effort. We wouldnt pay more than $1000.

Bad deals? A used KX 155. These were and are great radios; probably the best navcomm ever made. Even though the market hasnt figured it out yet, this equipment is hugely overvalued, given that used units sell for two-thirds the price of a state-of-the-art IFR GPS mapcomm, such as Garmins GNC 300 or Apollos GX-series moving map GPS. (These actually may be cheaper than used KX 155s.)

More bad deals: Used Bendix/King KY 196/197 series standalone comms selling on the used market for $1200 to $1500. Apollos new SL 40 kills it with a new box at a lower price and more features. If theres a definition of a no-brainer decision, this is it.

As for buying new stuff and trading in your own for peak value, we think the next year or so is a good time to consider this. As the upgrade market picks up steam, the value of used equipment will become even more volatile than it already is, with sharp downtrends on some equipment. Wait too long and you may have an entire panel full of museum pieces.

Also With This Article
Click here to view “ADF and DME: Just Say No.”

-by Paul Bertorelli