Avidyne Upgrades: Competitive, Maturing

Armed with a modern and capable product line, Avidyne is gaining traction in a market dominated by Garmin. Price and try both before committing.

For most of the past decade, we had all but given up on serious competition for Garmin in the full-panel upgrade market. Once-dominant BendixKing faded and Garmin dealt with UPS-AT by simply buying it. But now, somewhat quietly, comes Avidyne with a full line of products to make a head-to-head run at Garmin.

With the IFD-series navigators certified, shipping and into their second generation of software, dealers report both a spike in interest in full-panel Avidyne suites and simpler upgrades to Garmin’s vast installed base of GNS430W/530W navigators. That’s ignited a lively resale market for used GNS navigators at a time when the refurb market is running hot.

After a drawn-out certification process for the IFD line, Avidyne appears fully up to speed, it has improved its support effort and the company is likely finding sales among buyers who want something new that’s not made by Garmin.

In this article we’ll outline those core products and the technology Avidyne is positioning to compete with Garmin so you’ll be better prepared to solicit quotes for each brand, even if a shop is preprogrammed to offer a Garmin solution.

Milestones, stumbles

Perhaps lending to its persistence and longevity, Avidyne’s presence dates nearly as far as Garmin’s. It pioneered retrofit multi-function display technology when it showed its first MFD product at Oshkosh in 1995 and certified it in 1997. With scanned georeferenced approach charts, followed by ship weather radar overlay (which ran on the Windows NT operating system), the FlightMax MFD kicked off the electronic chart frenzy.

Garmin’s GNS430 arrived in 1998, followed by the GNS530 in 1999—one-upping Avidyne—since these all-in-one navigators (technically not MFDs) could also overlay traffic, sferics data and mapping. But the retrofit MFD rivalry began in 2000 when Garmin bought UPS-AT and the existing MX20 MFD, which later morphed into the current GMX200. Still, it was Avidyne’s Cirrus-focused EX5000 Entegra big-screen MFD and accompanying PFD in 2003 that put Avidyne in the OEM pole position (mainly Cirrus, Piper and Columbia)—a spot it ultimately lost to Garmin’s G1000 around 2004.

But some of Avidyne’s current retrofit product line stems from technology it used in OEM applications. As an example, it certified the first satellite Broadcast weather system—the HeadsUp Technologies XMD76 XM satellite receiver—which debuted in the Cirrus and then trickled to the aftermarket. Avidyne later had success with its own MLB700 Sirius receiver. It competes with Garmin’s GDL69 SiriusXM system. Avidyne’s TWX670 real-time lightning detector competes with the L-3 Stormscope, although Avidyne admits that it’s a slow seller in the U.S., stifled by satellite datalink and ADS-B.

It was the early R2 Entegra glass cockpit that ultimately birthed Avidyne’s latest IFD540 and IFD440 retrofit navigators. The non-touchscreen R9, which came out in 2009 as a follow-on product to the final R8 series Entegra 5000 dissed by the OEMs, was (and still is) intended for aftermarket retrofit. Although not in huge numbers, it has been retrofitted in Cirrus and Piper models. With a installed price north of $80,000, we think trade-ups to preowned Cirrus models with Garmin G1000 Perspective avionics generally win out over R9 upgrades. Still, the R9 gives Avidyne bragging rights to a retrofit glass cockpit for more applications than Garmin’s G1000—a player only for retrofit in some King Air models.

Purchase an IFD540 and IFD440 navigator (designed as a plug-in replacement for Garmin’s GNS530W and GNS430W) and you’ll get the same GPS, navcomm, FMS and base software that exists in the R9 integrated suite. Avidyne admits that some of the delay in bringing the IFD to market stemmed from the challenge of shrinking the R9’s big-screen data to a format appropriate for a stack-mounted retrofit screen.

In the end, think of the trickle-down IFD systems as R10. That’s because Avidyne started the IFD540 with software version 10, essentially a follow-on improvement to the R9. What isn’t included on the retrofit products is the R9’s ADAHRS. Expect to see that, or something similar, in Avidyne’s planned PFD4000 retrofit primary flight display. Although unveiled a few years ago, Avidyne said it put the project on a slow boil while it concentrated on certifying the wider-reaching IFD products.

Speaking of retrofit PFDs, Avidyne partnered with Aspen Avionics when it certified the DFC90 autopilot interface (more on that in a minute). Worth mentioning is the IFD540 and IFD440 navigators have complete functionality with the Aspen Evolution PFD, Garmin G500 and G600 retrofit PFD, in addition to Garmin’s GI-106A and the Mid-Continent Instrument and Avionics MD200-series standalone OBS indicators.

Federated upgrades

As complete as the product line may be, Avidyne doesn’t build all of the retrofit avionics aimed at federated radio stack upgrades. PS Engineering (based on its PM8000) builds the AMX240 Bluetooth-equipped audio control panel, but with a bezel that matches the IFD navigators and Avidyne’s AXP340 1090ES ADS-B transponder, built by Trig Avionics.

Keeping with the slide-and-fly upgrade potential, the AXP340 is designed to slide into an existing King KT76A transponder installation, but shops still need to wire in GPS data from the IFD WAAS navigator.

As for full-up ADS-B, Avidyne’s product line isn’t as capable as Garmin. For now, the 1090ES transponder serves as ADS-B Out, while the NavWorx-built MLB100 receives ADS-B weather and traffic on 978 UAT. The MLB200-series (available with and without internal WAAS GPS) has 978 UAT ADS-B In and Out, but aren’t available yet. This gives Garmin the clear advantage when it comes to ADS-B solutions. Aside from the panel display-compatible GDL88, Garmin’s GDL84 is purposed for display on a tablet.

Building on the traffic alerting technology it acquired when it bought Ryan International in 2005, the TAS600-series active traffic processor recently evolved into the TAS-A combination TAS and ADS-B traffic receiver. Ultimately competing with Garmin’s GTS800-series combination TAS/ADS-B traffic processors, Avidyne’s VeriTAS system blends interrogated active and passive ADS-B traffic and correlates the targets based on threat. The system has been certified and Avidyne says the software will be available early next year, along with the MLB200 ADS-B transceivers.

Advancing the ifd, DFC

Since flying with an early version 10.0 software-equipped IFD540 for review in the March 2015 issue of Aviation Consumer, Avidyne released the major software upgrade 10.1, which also brought the certification of its $15,995 IFD440 hybrid navigator (an answer to Garmin’s GTN650). The new software addresses many of the nits we had with version 10.0.

Some notable improvements in version 10.1 include standby comm frequency monitoring (which will require additional audio wiring and a hardware mod to the navigator), the Bluetooth keyboard interface, airspace aural alert warnings, full support for ADS-B weather from the MLB100 receiver, a headwind component label within the air data calculator, plus capability to fly both LP+V approach types and allows advisory glideslope (+V) to work even when the system has no air data input. Avidyne is reserving the internal Wi-Fi function for future upgrades.

Unlike the GTN650, the IFD440 can drop into a Garmin GNS430W installation with little to no wiring changes and seriously widens Avidyne’s market reach. Until now, the only modern replacement navigator with this footprint is Garmin’s touchscreen GTN650, which requires installation, but it costs less.

During a recent visit to Avidyne’s Lincoln, Massachusetts, headquarters we watched an IFD440 drop-in installation and software configuration. In we’ll under 10 minutes, Avidyne’s Tom Harper removed a GNS430W from a Piper Arrow’s radio stack, slid in an IFD440, set up the install configuration settings and paired its new Bluetooth keyboard.

Garmin doesn’t have a certified retrofit autopilot, but Avidyne does. Approved for retrofit in Cirrus, Beech Bonanza and Cessna 182 applications, Avidyne’s DFC90 flight control system drops into existing S-TEC autopilot installations and uses the existing servos and much of the existing wiring harnesses.

Since the DFC90 is AHRS-based, it requires either Aspen’s Evolution Pro PFD or Avidyne’s Entegra PFD. In general, the DFC90 upgrade is $10,000, not including a couple days of installation. Avidyne says it’s working with the Cessna Cardinal Flyers group to potentially expand the STC to Cessna 177-series models.

Warranty and apps

Buyers still take issue with Avidyne’s controversial Aeroplan extended warranty plan, which indemnifies Avidyne after any crash that drags Avidyne into a lawsuit. Avidyne’s Harper matter-of-factly noted it isn’t backing off on the policy, but also clarified that buyers don’t have to buy the extended coverage and indemnify Avidyne to get a warranty.

Avidyne recently extended the warranty to two years if you register the new quipment on myavidyne.com. This registration process better enables Avidyne to notify owners of product enhancements. Additionally, if owners buy an Aeroplan policy, they’ll get an additional two years of coverage, for a total of four.

The other concern is app compatibility. As we go to press, the IFD540/440 navigators don’t integrate with popular apps like ForeFlight, WingX and FlyQ—a limiting factor for some buyers that might want the same capabilities as Garmin’s Flight Stream wireless cockpit.

As we’ve been reporting, the big news out of Garmin is Flight Stream’s new compatibility with the ForeFlight Mobil app (in addition to Garmin’s own Pilot tablet app for iPad and Android.) This enables a two-way, wireless connection between ForeFlight and Garmin’s GTN-series navigators.

Avidyne noted that any future wireless interface between a tablet and its Bluetooth and Wi-Fi-equipped IFD navigators will have a cost and installation advantage over Garmin’s Flight Stream. Garmin’s wireless interface requires a dedicated Bluetooth hub (Flight Stream model 110 or the flagship 210) for wiring into the GTN navigators. This could easily add another $1000.

This past summer, Avidyne announced a two-tier industry standard software development kit (SDK), which is available to app developers wanting access to Avidyne’s data stream to write new apps.

“We’re not going to restrict people when it comes to working with our data output to create new apps,” said Avidyne’s Harper. Of course, tier-two developers (these are big-name players) will need to work with Avidyne for a more complete I/O interface. This is in the works, but Avidyne wouldn’t give us details.

How you might choose

For existing GNS530W/430W owners on the fence, we think upgrading to a slide-in IFD is worth a try, expecially with Avidyne’s generous try-and-fly money-back guarantee. It will refund your money and pay the dealer up to four hours to reinstall your Garmin navigator if you aren’t satisfied after flying with it for 30 days.

Avidyne said trade-in values for fully functional and clean Garmin GNS530Ws can be as high as $7500 and $5500 for GNS430Ws. It also said it can broker units for dealers not wanting to stock them.

For new, teardown installs, our advice is to find a dealer that has both brands on hand for a demonstration. Larger shops actually have them installed in demonstration aircraft. Additionally, download the IFD and GTN simulators, and while you’re doing that, get a comparable and firm quote for both brands after the shop inspects the aircraft.

In our view, Avidyne’s aggressive run at the retrofit market has wide-reaching benefits for the dealer network and Garmin, too. It stimulates product growth, while also keeping prices competitive (Garmin has already announced a rebate program.) But Avidyne will need to prove it can do what Garmin does superbly well—which is service the dealer network and excel at sales volume. Both will take time, because Avidyne has a lot of catching up to do.

Contact www.avidyne.com, 800-284-3963.


Editor in Chief Larry Anglisano has been a staple at Aviation Consumer since 1995. An active land, sea and glider pilot, Larry has over 30 years’ experience as an avionics repairman and flight test pilot. He’s the editorial director overseeing sister publications Aviation Safety magazine, IFR magazine and is a regular contributor to KITPLANES magazine with his Avionics Bootcamp column.