With regard to business jet technology in the flight department, do you chase the latest and greatest or keep it simple and functional? Andre Fodor, Aviation Director, Johnsonville Sausage ponders the question…
As I walked into our flight operations office recently I found my team huddled around a computer monitor. Curiously peeking over their shoulders, I found they were watching the unveiling of the latest iPhone. The presentation was fascinating. There are so many enhancements, but as my brain registered them a small, inner-voice was nagging: “I don’t have a need for all this new stuff!”
In reality, however, we all need the new technology! Maybe not immediately, but soon all these new gadgets and advancements will complement and facilitate my life and become part of my lifestyle as older technology eventually becomes more obsolete. We must stay up-to-date and keep moving forward, lest we ourselves become technologically obsolete.
The question I was left with, as my thoughts refocused on work, was just how much technology is enough in an airplane? For this, we need to look at some facts.
The Latest & Greatest?
It’s a fact of modern-day life that as time passes technology can evolve rapidly in the space of a few short months, and is readily applied as a more effective solution than the technology it replaces. New airspace and regulatory requirements may thus demand increased aircraft technological sophistication; new learning; new standards; and inevitably costly upgrades.
If your airplane can’t support those technological advancements, the hurdles and costs will grow with the length of your ownership of that aircraft.
When I attend Business Aviation conventions and visit the static displays, I often ponder whether all the advancements I see in cockpit technology and cabin systems are beneficial or necessary.
One seasoned broker provided some valuable insight on that question. He explained that the wise buyer will purchase as much technological advancement as possible, within the financial constraints of their bottom line. His reason was that this would help lengthen the operational life of the asset and therefore maintain a higher residual value.
A colleague who sells datalink and satellite data services revealed that a large number of operators who possess the onboard technology for enhanced systems never activate them. They own the technological edge but they choose to defer utilizing it to reduce cost and maintain simplicity in their aircraft.
Simple, But Functional
There is much to be said about simplicity. We operate an airplane with an older , but proven avionics suite that has been kept functionally upgraded by the OEM. It was delivered loaded and included FANS-1/A as I knew this would be a very costly upgrade (think north of $1m) that I didn’t want to tackle post-delivery.
We were unable to get factory installed ADS-B and LPV, however, as these options had yet to be certified in our platform. With that in mind, I made every effort to provision the airplane with the ducting and wiring for the missing upgrades. The more I could do before the aircraft left the factory, the less pain I’d encounter when tackling those enhancements later.
Once ADS-B and LPV certification was achieved for our platform, we were thus able to be the first in line, making our airplane the best-equipped and (theoretically) boasting the highest residual value in the market.
It’s safe to say that in this area, we have a simpler, older, matured and well-proven avionics system that can meet all current and future requirements for us to fly and operate globally for many years to come.
When it comes to new technology, there’s so much to learn; so many complex systems that have to ‘handshake’ seamlessly with existing technology in order for their magic to work. As proof of complexity, our Director of Maintenance recently spent 20 days in a classroom that covered only avionics. He now speaks of networks and interfaces. He appears to have evolved from licensed A&P mechanic to electronics and IT guru!
So What Is Right?
I must confess that when I power all this technology up in our newer aircraft, I am awed. The high definition of the displayed data, the accuracy and redundancy of the navigation systems and the workload reduction through automation is nothing short of amazing. There is value added in our ability to use EVS and SVS during challenging weather conditions and to stream data and video anywhere in the world.
Yet with that being said, when the gremlins visit (and they often do until all system mature), having the option of getting our older, simpler but well-equipped airplane out of the hangar provides us the assurance that comes from a well matured platform; simple yet (for the foreseeable future) technologically able.
So I summarize this: there is no right or wrong when it comes to business jet tech. It’s more a matter of choice when it comes to how much is too much. You decide. Are you staying with your first generation iPhone, or springing up for the newest release…?