ECIs Big Chance
The effective demise of Superior Air Parts in early January will fundamentally shift the market for engine parts that overhaul shops depend on for their survival. I say “effective” demise because Superior still exists as a company, albeit an insolvent one without much to sell.
When Lycoming came along and bought all of Superiors assets, the crown jewels were the PMAs and STCs used to manufacture Lycoming and Continental replacement parts. Those mere slips of paper represent years of investment and without them, Superior doesnt have much left. Lycoming wont say what its plans are until the sale is approved, but its hard to imagine theyll license Superior to make parts. At press time, Superior told us it would continue its XP engine program and may resume its experimental builder program, but how many buyers will have confidence in Superiors future?
That leaves ECI as the sole player in the world of non-OEM parts. ECI has its own stack of PMAs and has done a lively business over the years, especially in the cylinder segment. But as reported on page 22 of this issue, ECI is stressed. Business is down, the Titan cylinder line is subject to an AD that owners find onerous and theres not much surplus cash for investing in new products. Just a single PMA costs thousands if not hundreds of thousands and, frankly, in my view, the FAA is harder on ECI than it is on other companies. After watching how the FAA handled the bogus rod AD and the more recent Titan AD, I dont think the agency treats ECI at all fairly. Call it politics and string-pulling from afar by other players.
Nonetheless, with Superior out of the picture, ECI has an opportunity. It has always competed with the OEMs on price and kept Lycoming and Continental from inflating prices beyond the reach of many owners. For those shops who tilt away from the OEMs-and thats many-ECI will be the only choice.
The challenge before ECIs management is to run the company as mistake-free as possible. That means quality control that prevents any more Titan-type disasters, controlling costs and keeping shops happy with good customer service and fair warranty performance. This is easier to write than to do. Margins in aviation manufacturing have never been generous and theyre not getting better. Companies are now faced with the most severe economic conditions many have ever seen and all are awaiting the inevitable turnaround. When it comes, ECI should be in a good place to make the most of it. I hope they do.
Garmin, XM Stumble
I was spending a quiet New Years weekend catching up on work when a small trickle of complaints about lost datalink service flowed into my inbox. Then the phone started ringing and before you know it, this little tempest took on a life of its own. As we reported on our sister publication, www.avweb.com, an unknown number of GPSmap 396, 496 and 696 owners experienced loss of datalink weather beginning January 1. The outage wasnt fixed until the morning of the 7th.
What happened? Neither Garmin nor XM will say, which does nothing but further irritate owners. In my view, the companies did a poor job of handling the PR on this because they assumed it wasnt really a big deal. In terms of total customers affected, it might not have been. But tell that to one commenter on my AVweb blog who complained that XM led him to believe for three days that it was his problem, not an XM problem. He was steamed and I would be, too. Given the giant software upgrade Garmin issued after the fact, my guess is the problem originated in Olathe. Heres hoping both companies handle this better next time rather than circling the wagons and trying to wish it away.