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avionics

How to Choose the Best Avionics System

Choosing the best avionics system for your aircraft, operations, and budget can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little planning and research, you can identify the ideal system and avionics shop to take your flying to the next level.

“There are so many different pilot and operator interests, space options, desired capabilities, price ranges, and equipment preferences when it comes to new avionics systems,” said Hillsboro Aviation Avionics Manager Christopher Brand. “Sometimes the aircraft owner isn’t even completely aware of all the possibilities. Coming to the shop with a clear idea of what you would like to achieve with your new system goes a long way in helping you partner with your avionics shop to identify the ideal solution.”

Step 1: Inventory

The first step in identifying any new equipment upgrade, especially the best avionics system, is to take close inventory of your current capabilities and specific needs.

  • What are the makes and models of the equipment in your current avionics suite?
  • What new capabilities do you seek with a new system that you can’t do now?
  • Is the aircraft flying VFR only, or is it operating IFR as well?
  • How often are you flying?
  • What are the current average distances of your flights?
  • What does your future look like (expanded range, increased annual flight hours, more turns, etc.)?
  • What are your current challenges?
  • How would you categorize you pilot workload/CRM currently?
  • What kind of flying are you doing (business, pleasure, corporate)?
  • What is your aircraft’s power and range?
  • What is your budget?

Most customers seeking avionics upgrades fall into three key groups: pleasure flying in a single engine aircraft as an owner/operator, small business owners, and corporate charter or lease operators.

“There are a lot of options available, from inexpensive upgrades for weekend VFR pilots all the way to complete capability-increasing systems to reduce CRM and boost passenger convenience for corporate operators,” says Brand. “A good shop will take the time to go over your needs, challenges, and budget with you to help discover the best avionics system for you.”

Step 2: Interview Avionics Shops

The depth and complexity of your avionics system solution will help direct you in finding the ideal avionics shop to perform the work. For instance, if you’re seeking a comms system upgrade that works with your tablet’s navigation app, most any avionics shop up to a full-service maintenance facility can provide quality work.

When it comes to more complex aircraft with specialized systems or specific brands of navigation avionics, it is important to do more research.

Some avionics systems can only be installed by an authorized service center, for example. That service center will have specialized training on the manufacturer’s line of systems, ensuring a proper and protected install.

For complex aircraft and those with unique systems, Brand recommends aircraft owners look for aircraft manufacturer service center or repair station authorization.

“The Cirrus, for example, has its unique automated parachute system, which is tied to key data coming from the avionics system,” Brand says. “I wouldn’t recommend anyone unfamiliar with that aircraft making changes to key avionics. As a general rule, the more complex the aircraft and if you’re seeking specialized nav/comm systems, especially glass cockpit, the more important it is to seek that specialized skill and training of a factory-authorized service center.”

Step 3: Make it So

Once you’ve found the avionics shop that not only meets your skill and experience requirements but also takes the time to work with you on your specific needs and budget, it’s time to get to work.

A reputable avionics shop will offer you a few options of systems that can meet your needs, especially if you were able to provide a budget. Ideally, they will be able to demonstrate most of the systems, highlighting how they meet the needs you outlined in the beginning. When reviewing these options, keep warrantees, guarantees, included subscriptions, and upkeep costs in mind. A more expensive system may offer longer ROI through generous benefits added at the front end.

Brand recommends ensuring a time budget is delivered as well as a cost budget. Simple installs on single-engine aircraft can take a few days where extensive upgrades to larger aircraft can take weeks to a month or so. Some shops may even be willing to lock in a labor cost, ensuring if they go over, you’re not surprised by increased labor hour costs.

In the end, if you take the time to think through your challenges, clearly define your requirements, research your avionics shop, and carefully choose the right shop for your upgrade, you’ll fly away with the best avionics system for your operation.

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