Avionics Report

August 2019 Issue




Checklist

- For roughly $3000, you can get an entry-level primary EFIS.
- The current STC certification trend is lowering prices and broadening applications.
- A fully integrated panel with new autopilot and ADS-B can approach or exceed $50,000.

Top Avionics Upgrades: Choices For All Budgets

With falling prices, blanket approvals and serious integration, it's finally a buyer's market for avionics. But, labor cost and complexity are on the rise.

ADS-B is old news. Let's equip and move on because the real news in the avionics market is the serious surge in competition, combined with a shift from expensive TSO approvals to STCs. That's working out to the benefit of avionics buyers, especially ones with lower budgets.

Adding to the competition are newcomers, with New Mexico-based Aerovonics as one example. As we reported in the July 2019 Aviation Consumer, this new company's AV-series primary EFIS is capable and smartly engineered, with a price that caters to low budgets and an installation that doesn't require shredding the instrument panel.

Of course the dense market doesn't make an already difficult buying decision any easier. So to help sort it out, in this article we'll offer an around-the-bases look at the most popular new avionics configurations-from entry-level (for basic aircraft) to higher-budget (for go-places higher-end machines). The idea is to arm you with enough knowledge to talk the talk with your avionics shop when they make suggestions for a package. It's also time for our ADS-B buyer's guide, and it follows this article. Let's begin with an ADS-B wrap-up.

Don't Overthink It

3 Mooney Garmin cruise

Thatís a Garmin G500TXi display with integrated engine indication system (EIS) on the pilotís panel of a Mooney. The iPad in the right stack connects via Bluetooth to the GTN750 for ADS-B traffic, weather and flight instrument display. The clean retrofit was done by SureFlight Aircraft Completions in Pennsylvania.

At this point the ADS-B buy-in decision should be easy. You've heard it all before but we'll tell it to you again: If you fly above 18,000 feet, you'll need an ADS-B transponder. And if your existing transponder is an aging non-digital (has a cavity oscillator tube) model, our advice is to ditch it and put in an ADS-B transponder. Old models worth getting rid of include the King KT76/78 series and anything made by Narco or Collins. If there's any doubt about its health, have your shop evaluate it. You'll need a reliable unit for the long term.

If you've already invested in a modern transponder upgrade and don't fly above 18,000 feet, one top pick is the uAvionix skyBeacon wingtip unit with LED position and strobe lamps. We've covered this system extensively, and most recently in the May 2019 Aviation Consumer where we installed one in a Piper Cherokee to see if it really was the world's easiest ADS-B upgrade as the company claims.

Turns out the claim was close enough to crown the skyBeacon a winner for a budget-based solution, the deal sweetened with a two-for LED lighting upgrade. Realistically, you'll want to budget $2000 for an easy installation (including the strobe light), paperwork and flight testing, and a bit more if the light doesn't exactly bolt directly in place of the existing lamp assembly.

If you already have a healthy and modern transponder and you don't plan to fly high, Garmin's GDL82 UAT solution sells for $1795-the second cheapest. The datalink processor connects in line with the existing transponder antenna and has a built-in WAAS GPS. The installation requires mounting the GPS antenna on the cabin and wiring the unit.

4 Bliss Skyhawk G5

Avionics configurations are all over the map. The Skyhawk in the top photo has a Garmin G5 flight instrument, GNC175 IFR navigator, L3 NGT9000 ADS-B transponder and leftover analog radios from the 1980s. That was a $15,000 investment.

But as budget-based as these solutions are, shops still report that the most popular ADS-B upgrade is Garmin's GTX345 ADS-B In and Out transponder. It's available with and without WAAS GPS and has built-in Bluetooth for sending flight data, ADS-B traffic and weather data to a tablet or smartphone running the Garmin Pilot or ForeFlight tablet apps. It's a generous interface. Pricing on the base GTX345 (without GPS) is $4995. Got an existing GTX330 Mode S unit? Garmin will upgrade it to the GTX330ES, which has ADS-B Out, but requires a WAAS GPS input.

Top Efis Upgrades

Of all the avionics upgrades, planning a primary flight display retrofit is perhaps the most difficult. There could be major panel work involved, and it might not work fully with your autopilot.

5 GNX375_0487_HOME

Garminís GNX375, middle, is an IFR navigator with built-in ADS-B transponder.

Step one is to evaluate the existing flight instruments and look toward the future. If the aircraft has traditional round gauges, do you want to get rid of the vacuum system in favor of an all-electric suite? If so, does the product's STC include removing the vacuum system? There's good reason to consider going vac-less. Other than the obvious boost in confidence and reliability, getting rid of all that hardware sheds sizable weight and clutter behind the instrument panel.

Your Garmin dealer's most likely top recommendation for a lower-end EFIS upgrade might be Garmin's $2249 G5 display, of which there are two. It's a worthy suggestion, in our view. The G5 has an STC that currently covers 560 aircraft models-a huge swath. In its basic form, a single G5 attitude indicator can be installed as primary. It has a battery backup in case of electrical failure and can be paired with the $2549 G5 heading/electronic HSI instrument for dual ADAHRS redundancy. If the G5 attitude instrument fails, the directional instrument reverts to an attitude display.

Connecting the G5 directional instrument to third-party autopilots and earlier GPS navigators requires the $699 GAD29B nav interface module. Once the dust settles, typical dual-screen G5 installations generally run around $7000.

On the higher end, Garmin has a widespread STC for the once experimental G3X Touch. We covered the G3X Touch in a flight trial article in the June 2019 Aviation Consumer so we'll just recap it here. When planning the G3X Touch, first consider which screen configuration works best for the panel and the budget. What makes this system our top pick for a high-end EFIS is the number of display options and the 500-plus approved model STC.

It's worth mentioning Garmin's G500/600TXi PFD/MFD, which came out before the G3X Touch was certified. Unlike the G3X Touch, the TXi displays have full TSO approval, plus the system is deeply compatible with analog third-party systems, including legacy autopilots. Contrast that with the G3X Touch, which essentially requires a Garmin navigator for its digital data bus interface. With the TXi, you can interface your analog KX155 nav radio, as one example.

6 AV30 in panel

In the ďone-to-watchĒ category, the panel in the lower photo has a pair of Aerovonics AV30 flight instruments. Call that a $5000 job.

When deciding on either system, ask your shop what makes the most sense from a compatibility standpoint. The TXi is also available with Garmin's EIS engine indication system and is available in multiple screen configurations.

There's roughly a $6000 greater price delta between the 10-inch G500TXi ($15,995) and the 10-inch G3X Touch. The basic, bare-bones G3X Touch with a 7-inch screen is $7995.

If you already invested in Aspen's Evolution retrofit EFIS, you probably recognize that the system can use a jumpstart in processing speed and graphics display. That's just what Aspen offers with the Evolution MAX displays. The MAX, which is available in one-, two- and three-screen versions (just like the original Evolution), is designed as a drop-in replacement for the older displays. But if you want to connect the new display's audio output feature, your shop will need to wire it in to the audio panel. We think the effort and cost is worth it given the added utility, including "minimum" callouts when on an approach.

7 Cirrus Avidyne panel

Itís a brisk market for retrofitting early-gen Cirrus models. Thatís a G2 SR22 worked over by Nexair Avionics in Massachusetts with dual Avidyne IFD navigators, an Avidyne DFC90 autopilot and a PS Engineering audio system. What you donít see is Avidyneís AXP322 remote ADS-B transponder. Call it a $50,000 upgrade.

After flying the new MAX system in a Cirrus (splashed with bright Florida sun), we think the new display technology is impressive-perhaps one of the most sunlight-readable PFDs on the market. Better yet, the Max gives existing Aspen owners an upgrade path, plus it runs upgrade promotions (currently $4995) and can upgrade your existing display or send your shop an exchange. All upgrades get a fresh two-year warranty.

Avidyne's Ars: Gps with Attitude

For belt-and-suspender backup that's self-contained in the radio stack, we think Avidyne's IFD550 navigator is a worth a look, especially if you're looking to step up and out of an aging Garmin GNS530. The 550 is a follow-on product to the IFD540 (and smaller IFD440) and these are drop-in replacements for Garmin GNS530W navigators. This means in those applications there is limited rewiring required.

At first glance the Avidyne IFD navigator product line may seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. What differentiates the IFD550 from the IFD540 is the IFD550's ARS, or attitude reference system.

Other than accepting a heading input from Aspen's Evolution PFD, in addition to Garmin's G500/600 PFD, the Avidyne ARS is self-contained. The navigator also sends GPS nav and course data into the displays over an ARINC 429 data stream. For dual installations (maybe an IFD550 and IFD440), the connections are independent for redundancy, but have full synchronization.

8 IFD550 for graphic

Thatís the attitude-equipped IFD550, middle, and the JPI EDM930 primary engine monitor, below photo.

Avidyne was the first with a hybrid user interface, which means you use a combination of touch and button presses. There's also an extensive wireless (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) interface for connecting the IFD to external devices, including an iPad running Avidyne's IFD100 app, in addition to ForeFlight. In fact, the IFD100 app essentially adds a second IFD550 display/control set on the tablet. The navigator also connects to a Bluetooth keyboard as yet another option for data entry.

The list price of the IFD550 is $21,999, but if you have a clean and fully functional Garmin GNS530W, you can cut that cost substantially. We've see trade values as high as $8000.

Engine Monitors

We're putting the finishing touches on an engine monitor roundup for a future issue of Aviation Consumer, but we'll give you a brief primer here. We'll start by saying that primary monitors (ones that are approved to replace all of the OEM gauges-including fuel quantity) require a sizable installation. Given their size, expect your shop to do substantial panel rework to make the big-screen display fit in a location that's within your scan and reach. If you have aging fuel senders, expect to either have them overhauled or in many cases replaced with digital senders that may prove far more accurate than older analog senders. This adds big to the installation effort and bottom line.

9 930barLow

As we've reported, the once-popular Xerion Auracle big-screen monitor has been orphaned. This was once a flagship monitor with a good display. The good news for owners left in the cold is that many of the probes and sensors for this system can work with a JP Instruments engine monitor, including the EDM930. It's one of our top picks for a retrofit big-screen engine display. The Electronics International MVP-50 is another. We'll hammer out the difference in the upcoming market scan. As for price, realistically you'll want to budget $10,000 or more for some installations, which makes integrated systems like Garmin's EIS on the G3X Touch and TXi displays worth considering.

Realistic Expectations

10 Aspen MAX lead

A few words on avionics projects. Before even asking a shop for a price quote, bring them the aircraft. They need to see the wiring and the antennas, and if the upgrade includes an engine display, they'll want to eyeball the engine bay.

Don't underestimate the learning curve that tags along with a new suite, especially if it includes a new-to-you GPS navigator. Use the downtime to hit the pilot's guides. If your instincts are telling you that formal training is in your future, limit your flying to decent weather. Accept that you'll be a test pilot for a few hours. And an airplane that's been all over the hangar floor for a month or longer-now with unfamiliar avionics-is a poor match for the nonproficient pilot.

It's a buyer's market with lots of choices. Now is a good time to invest, but don't let lower prices fool you into thinking even a basic upgrade will be inexpensive. Expect overruns and long downtimes.

Shop labor effort and rates are at an all-time high and good shops are busy. Pick one and work to maintain a good relationship. You'll need them for support, including software and hardware upgrades as the systems mature.

Autopilots 101

11 STEC3100

12 TruTrack panel display

13 Stack Mount Pro Pilot

14 GMC 507

If you're in the market for a new autopilot, there have never been so many choices at the $10,000 price point. Clockwise from the top: The digital Genesys S-TEC 3100 has a growing STC list and is a good value because it work with existing S-TEC autopilot servos, saving a sizable amount of installation time. It's also intended as an easy replacement for the S-TEC 55-series autopilot with minimal rewiring. That's the Trio Pro Pilot autopilot, which also has a growing STC list and some smart features as standard. Garmin's GFC500 started life as an autopilot for experimental aircraft, but now has a sizable STC list for certified aircraft. It's big on features, small on size and works with the Garmin flight displays. The TruTrak Vizion has a straightforward installation. Ask your shop what models are approved for your aircraft and price them all.

MANDATE-COMPLIANT, panel ads-b products

product

ADS-B specs

display interfaces

price

comments

Appareo

STRATUS ES

1090ES ads-b transponder

n/a

$2495

Requires WAAS GPS input (Garmin, Avidyne).

Stratus ESG

1090ES ADS-B TRANSPONDER

N/A

$2995

Has internal WAAS GPS, interfaces with select Stratus portable ADS-B receivers.

ASPEN AVIONICS

NGT-9000

1090ES ADS-B transponder

duAL-band ads-B in

EVOLUTION MFD, some garmin and avidyne displays

$2645

L3 Avionics product sold by Aspen. $795 software unlock required to interface traffic/weather with Aspen display.

avidyne

AXP340

1090ES ADS-B TRANPONDER

N/A

$3995

Partial plug-and-play with some existing BendixKing transponders. AXP322 is remote version.

AXP322

1090ES ADS-B TRANSPONDER

IFD navigators

$3995

Remote version of the AXP340. Tuned through the IFD-series navigators.

Skytrax100

978 UAT IN

All IFD navigators

$2199

Display compatibility with several third-party systems for ADS-B In, including Garmin GTX345, L3 Lynx 9000 Series, and FreeFlight RANGR UAT.

BENDIXKING

kt74

1090ES ADS-B TRANSPONDER

N/A

$2999

Partial plug-and-play with KT76A/C, KT78A transponders, requires WAAS GPS input.

KGX130

978 UAT IN

iOS TABLET

MFD traffic only

$1489

ADS-B In only, for use with 1090ES transponder.

KGX150 (G)

978 UAT out, 978 UAT in

ios tablet

mfd traffic only

$4069

Has internal WAAS GPS.

KGX150

978 UAT OUT, 978 UAT in

ios tablet

mfd traffic only

$3489

Version without internal WAAS GPS.

freeflight systems

FDL-978-RX

ADS-B IN

MFD, tablets

$3161

Works with a Wi-Fi module for display on tablet computers and select panel displays.

FDL-978-RX/G

ADS-B in

MFD, tablets

$3995

Same as the FDL-978-RX, but with a built-in GPS.

FDL-978-XVR

978 UAT out, 978 UAT in

ios tablet

MFD TRAFFIC

$3935

Single-box solution that works with Garmin GNS430W/530W navigators, works with a Wi-Fi module for connecting to tablets.

FDL-978-XVR/G

978 UAT Out, 978 UAT IN

IOS tablet

mfd traffic

$4980

Same as FDL-978-XVR but with internal WAAS GPS.

FDL-1090-TX

1090ES ADS-B transponder

N/A

$4495

Remote control head/processor design, requires

WAAS GPS input.

garmin

GTX330D w/ES

1090es ads-b transponder

N/A

$8637

Diversity Mode S transponder with ADS-B Out when connected with an appropriate WAAS GPS.

gtx335

1090es ads-b transponder

n/a

$2995

Internal WAAS GPS.

GTX345

1090ES ADS-B transponder

GTN750/650/G1000, G1000TXi, TABLETS,

G500TXi, G600TXi

$4995

Internal WAAS $5795, GTX345-R LRU priced the same and works on G1000 NXi, G2000, G3000, G5000.

GDL82

978 UAT OUT

N/A

$1795

Designed to work with and connects to the existing Mode A/C transponder.

GDL84

978 UAT out, dual-band in

ios, android

tablets

$3995*

Standalone ADS-B Out and In, wireless Bluetooth connectivity with Flight Stream 110/210. Requires Garmin Pilot, ForeFlight tablet app. *$4495 with Flight Stream 210 (built-in AHRS).

GDL84H

978 UAT out, dual-band in

ios, android

tablets

$3995*

Standalone ADS-B Out and In, wireless Bluetooth connectivity with Flight Stream 110/210. Requires Garmin Pilot, ForeFlight tablet app. *$4495 with Flight Stream 210 (built-in AHRS), version for helicopters.

GDL88

978 UAT OUT, DUAL-BAND IN

GNS530W/430W

GTN750/650

G600/500/TXi/G3X

*ios/android

$3995

Requires WAAS GPS input, tablet interface requires Flight Stream wireless Bluetooth module, Garmin Pilot or ForeFlight app.

GDL88-W

978 UAT OUT, DUAL-BAND IN

GNS530W/430W

GTN750/650

G600/500/TXi/G3X

*ios/android

$5143

Has built-in WAAS GPS receiver, tablet interface requires Flight Stream wireless Bluetooth, Garmin Pilot or ForeFlight app.

GDL88-D

978 UAT OUT, DUAL-BAND IN

GNS530W/430W

GTN750/650

G600/500/TXi/G3X

*ios/android

$4495

Diversity model (requires top and bottom antenna installation), requires WAAS GPS input, tablet interface requires Flight Stream wireless Bluetooth module, ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot app.

GDL88-WD

978 UAT OUT, DUAL-BAND IN

GNS530W/430W

GTN750/650

G600/500/TXi/G3X

*ios/android

$5643

Has built-in WAAS GPS receiver, diversity (requires top and bottom antenna installation), tablet interface requires Flight Stream wireless Bluetooth module, ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot app.

GDL88-DH

978 UAT OUT, DUAL-BAND IN

GNS530W/430W

GTN750/650

G600/500/G3X

*ios/android

$5395

Diversity and the version made for helicopters.

L3 Aviation LYNX

NGT-9000D+

1090ES ADS-B transponder

duAL-band ads-B in

HAS WAAS GPS, touchscreen, displays traffic and weather on some aspen, avidyne and garmin displays

SEE DEALER

Supports diversity (top and bottom antenna),

displays TIS-B, FIS-B ATAS (ADS-B Traffic Alerting System), includes Active Traffic (Interrogates Non-ADS-B Aircraft).

Option-Terrain Vision $895.

Option-TAWS $4000.

NGT-9000+

1090ES ADS-B transponder

duAL-band ads-B in

has WAAS GPS, touchscreen, displays traffic and weather on some aspen, avidyne and garmin displays

SEE DEALER

Displays TIS-B, FIS-B ATAS (ADS-B Traffic Alerting System), includes Active Traffic (Interrogates Non-ADS-B Aircraft).

Option-Terrain Vision $895.

Option- TAWS $4000.

NGT-9000

1090ES ADS-B transponder

duAL-band ads-B in

has WAAS GPS, touchscreen, displays traffic and weather on some aspen, avidyne and garmin displays

$5433

Displays TIS-B, FIS-B ATAS (ADS-B Traffic Alerting System), includes Active Traffic (Interrogates Non-ADS-B Aircraft).

Option-Terrain Vision $895.

Option-TAWS $4000.

trig avionics

TT31

1090ES ADS-B transponder

N/A

$2225

Stack-mounted, requires WAAS GPS input.

TT22

1090ES ADS-B TRANSPONDER

N/A

$1989

Two-piece system, requires WAAS GPS input, compact.

UAVIONIX

skybeacon

978 UAT OUT ONLY

N/A

$1849

Wingtip mount with WAAS GPS, LED nav light, LED strobe light. TSO certified, STC for installation pending.

TAILBEACON

978 UAT OUT ONLY

N/A

$1999

Tail mount version. Pending TSO certification.