Avionics News February 2016 - 21
"From an operator's perspective, choosing an avionics
shop that has previous experience with particular avionics
in a particular aircraft can have a great impact on the overall
success of the project," Jelinek explained. "A shop that has
experienced the possible trip points and certification issues
that are ever present when doing any type of modification
can save a lot of time and headaches."
"One big challenge we regularly see is certification issues
with the FAA," Wysong said. "When you see a new product
come out for an airplane, they'll include the STC approvals
for around 200 different type airframes. But when it comes
to helicopters, because there are so many different aircraft
with equally different configurations and combinations, you
have primary left seat, primary right seat, you have some
avionics in the panel and some in the pedestal. STCs for multiple rotorcraft are rare. Because of this, the FAA wants an
initial installation on almost all of the different helicopter
models. One of the few multiple (STCs) that have been done
are for the Bell 206B, 206L and 407.
"From the FAA's perspective, field approvals are low on
the priority list. Also, they limit the total number of field
approvals that can be done per month. And in some cases,
you'll also have to go back to the ACO to get flight manual
Often the added time and expense required for all that extra work is not taken into account when an avionics shop
bids on a helicopter upgrade. That can be catastrophic to the
bottom line and the relationship with the customer.
A good rule of thumb when doing any type of installation
for the first time on any helicopter is to contact the avionics
manufacturer and the local FAA representative to see what
either or both can or will do to help shorten the approval
ARE AUTOPILOTS AN AUTO-SELL?
While the H-TAWS and radar altimeter mandates are taking
care of creating their own demands, Wysong said that autopilots also represent an excellent business growth opportunity.
"At one time, we thought they (autopilots) would be mandated by the FAA for the EMS guys, but they have not done
that," he said. "But most of the EMS operators we work with
have decided to go ahead and install them as an added safety
measure. Several accidents have been the result of EMS aircraft
flying into marginal weather - most of their flights are immediate needs to try and save someone. They get caught in IMC
conditions, and most are VFR aircraft flown by single pilots.
"They're not used to flying in the soup at night, so it's hard
for them to transition to instruments. With a basic digital autopilot, the pilot can take his hands off the stick and the helicopter
will right itself. It gives them time to reorient themselves with
HELICOPTER AVIONICS 2020
So what does the post-H-TAWS mandate future look like for the
Both of the rotary-wing avionics experts we talked to said the future continues to look promising for helicopter avionics upgrades.
Sales of new helicopters are forecast to continue to stay strong, and
that means the preowned market will maintain a good pace.
"Operators will continue to want to equip their helicopters with
more sophisticated safety and operations-enhancing systems and
equipment," Wysong said. "For example, helicopters entering the
forestry industry will need outfitting with traffic, radar altimeters,
specific radios and equipment."
He also said the avionics manufacturers are working on some
additional capabilities that, when available, will provide more opportunities.
"One of the neatest things the manufacturers are starting to do
is offer databases with wire and obstacle warning capabilities for
their H-TAWS," Wysong said. "Those tall high-tension power
lines and support towers - you get in marginal weather or low-vis
situations and start to follow a highway and those power lines are
everywhere. These new avoidance databases will be a huge safety
While he does see a significant upside, Wysong said he also sees
some darkening clouds on the helicopter business horizon.
"As the major helicopter manufacturers continue to install more
high-end avionics and glass panels into their aircraft at the factory,
they can effectively control the aftermarket business," he said.
"They're in the business of selling new helicopters so they can
control the software on their aircraft, which can force owners to
buy new if they want certain upgrades.
"For example, Bell has its own new autopilot. But if you want
it, you have to buy a new helicopter with the G1000 system. Yes,
in this case, there are some other options (Genesys HeliSAS) that
work with the G1000. But equipment such as the newest version of
the XM Weather system will not work with the existing software
"The airframe manufacturers own the software, and they are the
responsible party to approve the new software levels when they
come out. To make matters more challenging, the FAA TSO-approved software is not enough; the STC or STC field approval also
must be updated to cover the installation of that software in that
Adding insult to injury is the added fact that both the airframe
and avionics equipment manufacturers are proving to be slow
in approving any aftermarket software upgrades for helicopters.
But even with those speed bumps, both Wysong and Jelinek
see continuing good growth potential in helicopter avionics upgrades.
"There will always be opportunities for avionics upgrades in
helicopters," Wysong said. "It will just take more effort from
the avionics shops to be ready for them." q