Rotorcraft avionics are evolving rapidly, and Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Aspen Avionics is deeply involved in changes at the smaller, lighter end of the helicopter market. The company this year acquired GPS-components manufacturer Accord Technology, which expands its reach into OEM activities, and was selected by Robinson Helicopter to provide a "lighter, less expensive" display solution for the newly offered autopilot and stability augmentation system on R44s and R66s. We posed three questions to Aspen Avionics President and CEO John Uczekaj.
Is the "steam gauge" dead in helicopters?
That’s a controversial, emotional question. There are many people who believe very strongly that you need to fly on steam gauges to really learn how to fly an aircraft. We at Aspen happen to disagree with that.
Glass cockpits are becoming so affordable and so ubiquitous that, generally speaking, I believe we’re all moving toward a future with glass displays. Well, the future is today. When you start integrating [automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast], weather and traffic into displays, it almost seems like it is inevitable that the entire industry and the pilot community are moving in that direction.
I wouldn’t say steam gauges are dead, because in many of the vintage aircraft, people want to retain those sorts of vintage aspects of their aircraft.
To what degree is the shift toward glass cockpits driven by the growing appetite for consumer electronics like smart phones and tablets?
The capabilities of those devices have become so common now in our daily lives that it’s a natural thing to expect them when you get into an aircraft. You realize what kind of connectivity, what kind of display capabilities, application capabilities you have with your iPads, iPhones and other things and it’s a legitimate question for an aircraft owner to say: “Why can’t I have that kind of capability in my aircraft?”
As that becomes more consumer-driven in the non-aviation world, it will drive those capabilities into the aviation world. The safety aspects and situational awareness aspects, and the reliability aspects of glass and electronics in aircraft, are certainly big drivers, but at the end of the day it’s what the consumers want. And the consumers are wanting that kind of capability in their aircraft because they have it in their daily lives.
What does the helicopter consumer want in avionics?
The form factor of our Evolution primary flight displays and multi-function displays fit well in a lot of smaller [Part 27/Certification Specification 27] aircraft and our functionality fits that market very, very well from both a price point and a features aspect. We’ve really been bullish on the whole market.
Situational awareness is really the key. Any kind of features and functions that can improve that for a helicopter pilot are becoming more popular in the Part 27 world. We continue to develop and expand our synthetic vision and terrain avoidance products for helicopters. You’ll see us getting more sophistication in those areas.
Stability augmentation is another feature that many are looking for, so we are very excited to have our Evolution 1000H primary flight display paired with the Genesys Aerosystems HeliSAS as an FAA-approved factory option in Robinson’s R44 and R66. We get a lot of requests for that kind of interface. [That PFD is a standard option on the R22 as well as the R44 Raven Is and IIs and R66s.]
Our acquisition of Accord Technology is going to help us further enhance our customer’s situational awareness since they design, manufacture and support receivers and sensors for GPS and satellite-based augmentation systems (SBAS) navigation, including the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) devices at the heart of the FAA’s NextGen. That acquisition also will bring us much more of an OEM customer base.