A Great Idea Made Less Great
In this issue, youll find an in-depth review of Avidynes new active traffic product being offered at a price that will finally make it affordable for Skyhawk and Archer drivers. Kudos to Avidyne and Ryan for making this happen. But this breakthrough is not quite as terrific as it might have been.
Specifically, its saddled by what I call the $5000 surprise. And here it is: If youve seen the ads for the TAS600 selling for under $10,000 and you want to install one in, say, your older Mooney 231, youre out of luck, partner. (The fact that we own an older 231 is purely coincidental, by the way.) Because the 231 is certified for flight above 18,500 feet, it requires installation of the more expensive TAS610, which sells for $14,990. Still a better deal than the $20,000 Skywatch, but you cant legally install the cheaper version in an airplane certified above 18,500 feet and even if you do, the software will lock out performance above that altitude.
In a word, this is ridiculous. Ill concede that at the higher altitudes, the closure rates are greater and a traffic system that sees further is a bonus. That logic is inarguable. But for a Part 91 aircraft, this equipment isnt required. Its purely elective, so accepting performance limitations should be a customer choice, not an FAA choice. The reality for me is that I was never a customer for a $20,000 traffic system. And at $15,000, Im still not a customer, although I might be at $10,000. Im sure Im not alone. Conclusion: there will be fewer airplanes flying with these systems than there might have been and what should be a grand slam homer is, instead, a slide into third.
In requiring this kind of pointless certification hoop, the FAA actively works against overall safety by limiting market choices through flyspeck, trumped up technical requirements that cost owners and manufacturers money and benefit no one. I have wonder if the industry and FAA are adopting the idea that just because an owner has a higher performance airplane, he should therefore suffer market-will-bear pricing on equipment for that airplane.
On the positive side, well see a lot of modest singles with active traffic systems that wouldnt have had them otherwise. Well also see a lot of owners who wont buy for the reasons Ive stated. Go ahead, fire off an e-mail calling me a skinflint. But Im sticking to my guns on this one.
Destination Ground Nav
Judging by the mail we receive, many owners who buy a portable aviation GPS also use it for ground navigation. Garmin has that dual use pretty well figured out by offering excellent maps and ground nav software for such products as the GPSmap 296 and the new 396. As weve noted in our reviews, the ground nav software works beautifully and will get you to your destination without a hitch.
But theres a problem. Actually, two problems, both related to convenience, or lack thereof. Products such as the 296 and 396 are relatively large and bulky and although Garmin makes well-designed vehicle mounts for these navigators, you still have to move them from the airplane to the car and if youre driving a rental, you have to carry the bulky thing around.
Wouldnt it be better if Garmin or someone else had a pocket-sized ground navigator? It would and they do. We recently tried Garmins pocket-sized Quest navigator-4 1/4 by 2 by 3/4 inches deep-and found it to be a terrific alternative to hauling around the bulky aviation portable. Two versions of the Quest are available. The original sells for about $370 from various Web sources while the Quest II retails for about $550. The Quest II has a complement of U.S. or European maps pre-loaded while the original version requires manual loading.
I have conceded to being cheap, but I still found it worth $370 to have a shirt-pocket, dedicated ground navigator rather than having the aviation unit do double duty. The Quest goes into the car or clips on the handlebars of a motorcycle without a second thought. It will run on external volts or about 20 hours on an internal rechargeable. The screen size is a tad small but the Quest does faultless address lookup and turn-by-turn navigation. For this price, its a must-have gadget for me.