The Haves and Have Nots

You own a 1966 Comanche? No PFD for you, sport. And thats just as well; more appropriate products will emerge.

If you enjoy hearing grown men sob, call Garmin and ask when theyll have an STC to put a G1000 into your 1966 Comanche. don’t be surprised if the answer is not next week, not next month and not next year. Or, in the words of one marketeer we chatted with, How does never work for you?

Embodied in that harsh observation is a certain new reality in the world of avionics development. Increasingly, the haves will be new, moderately expensive airplanes or upper class older twins and turboprops and the have nots will be older piston singles whose designers never intended them to live this long.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Its just simple market forces at work and if youre paying attention even a little, the prices being discussed just might keep you from making a colossally stupid investment in your airplane.

The earthshaker here is how the advent of the G1000 and other PFDs will fundamentally reshape the new airplane market. With Cessna onboard with the G1000, Piper, Mooney and Beechcraft Raytheon will almost certainly have to respond with PFD initiatives of their own.

Cirrus deserves credit for getting this ball rolling, being the first manufacturer to offer only PFDs in new aircraft. For owners of older airplanes, all this PFD-volume-to-come is a good thing for it will bring some price reduction but, more important, it will spur the development of less expensive variants suitable for older airframes.

Big Dollars
Garmin has been extraordinarily canny about the cost of the G1000 for several reasons. For one, its new technology of a complexity no light aircraft avionics manufacturer has ever attempted.

Second, its reputation precedes its availability to a degree we havent seen thus far and last, the economics of these systems so favor new airplanes that were not sure we could make a price/value judgment on the G1000 even if we knew what it will cost, which we don’t.

But why should such trifling annoyances as not having any facts keep us from guessing? In a year or two, we’ll know if were right. In the accompanying article, we reported that Diamond will sell its G1000-equipped DA40 Star for about $258,000, for a full-boat installation with autopilot. If you ordered a steam-gauge equipped equivalent-a misnomer in itself since the two airplanes arent remotely equivalent-youd pay between $244,000 and $251,000.

The remarkable thing about this is that you can buy the enormously greater avionics potential of the G1000 for a price premium of as little as 5 percent or less.

But to get at the real cost of the G1000, we have to get a little cute here. First, the base price of the Diamond DA40 is $188,900 with a single Garmin 430, an audio panel and transponder. Guessing, we would say that package is worth about $18,000. Strip that out of the base price and the airplane sans any avionics sells for about $170,000.

Now, subtract that from $258,000-the price for a G1000-equipped Star -and youre left with $88,000. Pull out the price of the Bendix/King autopilot ($15,723) and youre left with $72,000, give or take.

There are obviously some unknown margins and mark-ups to deal with, but for a working number, we think $65,000 to $70,000 for the G1000 may turn out to be a realistic estimate.

If this turns out to be accurate, consider how that impacts the new aircraft market. In any airplane costing over $600,000 new-your Malibus, Meridians, Barons, Adam A500s, even some Bonanza A36s-$70,000 is 12 to 15 percent of the airframe cost, a trivial proportion. The avionics makers are betting that buyers of every new airplane in this class will want a full-up PFD and, in our view, they are right.

Cessna has seen this particular light and in a move that must have stunned Bendix/King, Cessna announced a G1000 option for the 182 and 206 lines. Putting some numbers on that, a G1000 Skylane will cost $297,500 while the 206 will retail for $413,000. For the Skylane, there’s essentially no price premium for the PFD while the Stationair will sell for about $27,000 more than a steam-gauge model.

Older Airplanes
In sheer volume, older aircraft still represent the larger pool of potential new avionics buyers, in units if not in dollars. The upgrade market is more or less a continuous thing as new products are introduced and the old ones are retired. But there’s price sensitivity and it changes with the state of the overall economy.

Of late, owners havent been in the mood for many $25,000 upgrades but if the Dow recovers past 10,000 for more than a day or two, they might get interested.

But how about $75,000 upgrades. Sure. Some. But not likely enough to constitute a profitable market, given the enormous investment and distraction of pursuing hundreds of unique STCs with limited engineering resources and unknown repeatability.

And therein lies Garmins problem with the retrofit market. And Avidynes. And Bendix/Kings. Chelton appears to be more inclined toward retrofit with its impressive FlightLogic system and although it claims to have the necessary STCs, those installations will also cost $55,000 and upward and thus far, they arent as integrated as the G1000. (You still need your own comms.)

There are mechanical issues, too. Maybe youve noticed that all of the PFD-equipped airplanes have side controllers or sticks, not a yoke that emerges from the panel right where the PFD needs to be.

The owner side of the equation is also a potential economic tar pit. Lets say you own a nice, early 1980s V-tail worth about $150,000. It make no sense to install an avionics suite totaling 50 percent of the airframe value, although some owners will insist on doing it. Theyll screech like stuck pigs when a buyer will give them 30 cents on the avionics dollar when the airplane is sold.

For high-dollar twins-the Cessna 340 described elsewhere in this issue-a PFD upgrade makes more sense. It represents less of the airplanes total value and owners fly them in enough serious IFR to justify the investment.

You don’t have to be an MBA to see where this is going. With the used market representing a strong but price-sensitive demand, someone-Garmin, Avidyne, Chelton, but probably Garmin first-will develop less expensive products based on PFD technology suitable for upgrades. We wont be surprised to see a bushel of these.

What might they be? Our guess is combined AI/HSI displays that include a GPS mapcomm, but keep some steam gauges in the panel, along with a second-fiddle navigator or radio.

Or, if the FAA ever loosens its stranglehold on arbitrary certification standards, a display that looks like nothing weve seen in the past. Cheltons FlightLogic cracks the door into this intriguing future.

The end-state game for now is this: don’t get ahead of yourself lusting after a PFD. In their current state of development, they don’t make much economic sense for an airplane whose value is less than $200,000.

For airplanes whose value is greater than that, a new airframe begins to be an attractive option, which explains why OEMs own the PFD world for the moment.

But if you own an IFR-capable older airplane, stay tuned. Every dog has its day. Even 1966 Comanches.

Also With This Article
“The Other Players.”