GARMIN AUTOLAND FOR THE REST OF US
Almost a year and half after Garmin’s Autoland announcement, the industry is still buzzing over this magic automation that lands the aircraft when the pilot can’t. Initially type certified in Piper’s M600 turboprop, Cirrus earned approval for the system (called Safe Return) in its Vision Jet, as did Daher (calling it HomeSafe) for the TBM940. Garmin’s emergency Autoland is helping to sell airplanes. Go for a demo ride in any of these machines and you’ll likely be convinced, too. But buyers are now asking when the system will be available for retrofit, or at least a player in new piston airplanes. Paired with an autothrottle, the system has to this point only been an application for turbines. But to branch into the piston market, I think Cirrus SR22 models seem to be a logical starting point. What are buyers willing to pay for it? This got me thinking about the future of avionics tech, and whether we have reached saturation—or at least the threshold of what buyers are willing to pay. I reached out to Bill Stone, Garmin’s head of business development, to backstop my thinking in that we already reached the threshold.
Stone has his finger firmly on the market’s pulse and while he eventually sees Autoland as a trickle-down system for the masses (Garmin believes it should be widely available to OEMS and end users), he’s well aware of cost sensitivity. Not surprisingly, Garmin is closely watching the trends in parallel markets, including automotive. You know, vehicles that drive themselves. A solution looking for a problem, perhaps, but there have also been huge leaps in manufacturing and automation solutions that can also benefit our small industry.
“Autoland for the masses? Never say never,” Stone told me, reiterating that the pieces are there, but he questions the amount of money the masses may be willing to pay. “Think outside the box, of course, but temper it with the reality of where exactly the customer sees value,” he said. Autoland aside, Stone sees the more natural progression of electronic processors—boosting avionics horsepower for more speed, graphics and overall efficiency. That’s not innovation, of course, but a stepping stone to better specs, better displays and hopefully easier integration. Last, I wonder if the masses really want more automation, especially the experimental homebuilt market, where a general lack of FAA regulatory oversight might make Autoland a retrofit reality.
I’m building a little piston-powered kit because I’m the one who wants to fly it, not watch a computer do it. That’s gotta be true of most builders, especially after working with all those hand tools during assembly. On the other hand, maybe it would be nice to have some backstop built into the autopilot for times when you’re sitting up straight in the seat. Aside from being an integral part of the automation that puts the airplane back on the ground better than most pilots can, an electronic servo’d throttle is a workload reducer when it is connected to the GPS system—automatically controlling power through climbs, descents, holds, approaches and yes, the landing flare.
So the question of when Garmin will bring Autoland to the retrofit market (and at what price) is anyone’s guess. As Garmin’s Bill Stone put it, “Sometimes you shoot for the stars and settle on the moon.”
USED AIRCRAFT GUIDE
I’m pleased with the recent surge in reader feedback and appreciative for all of you who help with our Used Aircraft Guide reports. This section of the magazine is incredibly time consuming, but to me it’s one of the most important, especially in a market with soaring prices and inflated valuations. Moreover, when readers track me down at shows and in my travels, one thing I have consistently heard over the years is that UAG is a favorite part of an Aviation Consumer subscription. And so this particularly motivates me to make sure these reports are as resourceful—and accurate—as possible for those sifting through the complicated used aircraft market.
For these reports we go deeper than any other magazine, and yeah, occasionally and inevitably we goof up a minor spec. That’s why we need as much real-world input as we can get, and that includes high-quality images so we can show readers what these aircraft look like—interior, exterior and under the cowling. So when you see an upcoming used aircraft report advertised on the back cover of Aviation Consumer, please spread the word that we need as much feedback as we can get. Last, if there’s a model you want us to cover, speak up and we’ll add it to the list. —Larry Anglisano