An Outlook for BizAv Avionics in 2022

What will happen in the avionics industry during 2022? Which types of upgrade will be in demand, and what will drive the demand? Ken Elliott shares his outlook…

Ken Elliott  |  10th February 2022
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    Ken Elliott
    Ken Elliott

    Ken Elliott is a veteran with 52 years of aviation experience, focussed on avionics in General and Business...

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    Private jet avionics panel during flight

    Covid-19 variants, supply-chain issues, and workforce migration all directly impact avionics, which complicates any attempt to provide an outlook for the trade in 2022. Nevertheless, we will attempt to do so.

    One certainty is that whenever there is uncertainty people and companies seek a safe harbor – this holds true within the aviation and avionics industries, too. Indeed, one avionics-related safe harbor worth mentioning is a trend towards less custom equipage and upgrades.

    During 2022, manufactures will build for predictability, as more customers turn to standard equipment and installations, having greater confidence in product availability, skilled manpower familiar with the tasks, and (presumably) lower cost.

    Outlook #1: Expect to see a growth in standard factory and third-party upgrades where equipment and parts are available and not ‘custom produced to order’. As the year progresses, factors limiting availability should improve and more custom orders can be taken.

    Where Does Your Aircraft fit in the Forecast?

    A forward-look of avionics will likely differ between groups of business jets and turboprops, and their age. Thus, the term ‘legacy’ can be assumed as the period commencing after the expiration of factory warranty.

    Irrespective of warranty considerations, where the factory and third parties become involved in avionics upgrades is not clear cut. For most legacy upgrades undertaken after the warranty period expires, both Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and third parties will compete in an open playing field. However, some upgrades can only be offered by the factory, regardless of the aircraft’s age.

    Within the warranty period there are likely to be several factory-only system upgrades – both mandated and optional – which upgrade avionics to the latest version to include new features, and provide product issue resolutions.

    Within the legacy, or pre-owned aircraft group, there are aircraft that were initially factory-equipped and subsequently had several minor upgrades over the years. There are also those that were recently upgraded in a significant way.

    Take, for example, the Bombardier Challenger 604 upgrade from Collins Pro Line IV to Pro Line 21 Fusion: Here the major avionic suite is upgraded impacting large sections of the cockpit and remote equipment. Clearly, those legacy Challenger 604s that remain largely in their existing configuration will have different outlook needs than those with the newer avionics suites, despite the age of each airframe.

    Groups can be assumed as:

    • New Business Jets/Turboprops and Transport Helicopters
      - OEM only
      - Third Party, or both OEM and Third Party

    • Legacy Business Jets/Turboprops
      - Equipped as originally configured, with several minor upgrades since delivery
      - Recently upgraded with major system changes

    Depending on your aircraft, your operation, and your personal or business situation, the ongoing and upcoming avionics upgrades will have a unique applicability and priority – there is no ‘one-size fits all’.

    Working with your preferred factory OEM, third-party MRO, or avionics shop, look at all the options available to you. Your aircraft type, model and serial number is likely one of a limited number sub-group. Only focus on what applies to your airframe to avoid disappointment.

    Outlook #2(a): Transactions of preowned business aircraft that are already retrofitted with modern avionics suites will be in high demand. The HNWI’s will be looking for pre-owned airplanes that are close to new, as they become available in this tight market.

    Outlook #2(b): As company fortunes fluctuate during dynamically changing economic cycles, owners and businesses who can budget for it will endeavor to keep their aircraft market-ready, by installing essential (cockpit) and attractive (cabin) avionic features.

    With the possibility of each serial number aircraft being unique, there will be significant variation in

    retrofit activity. It is worth noting that some upgrades are not economically viable for an individual aircraft or will not satisfy the budget of the current owner or operator. There are other ways to achieve equipage goals, and here is where both your local avionics shop and a consultant can be very helpful.

    A familiar avionics shop will know what you need – but they may be tied, via their owned Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) – to a specific solution.

    Other facilities, identified by a search or a consultant, may have access to different STCs that provide a more economical or, in some cases, a more viable solution. STCs can be traded between avionics shops and MROs (but not always). Furthermore, a facility may be reluctant to offer alternatives for individual business reasons.

    A High-Level Aviation and Avionics Forecast

    Various forecasts highlight significant indicators for how business aircraft and avionics will shape up for 2022. Notwithstanding disasters, conflicts, viruses, high inflation or political and economic upsets, here is a summary:

    1. Between 2020 and 2021 there were more than 800 additional pre-owned business jet transactions, with no indication of a slowdown for the next 12 months.
    2. Anticipate over 4% growth of worldwide jet transactions, up to the close of 2022.
    3. Expect a greater number of new jet orders but, with lower delivery levels and greater backlog potentially over 1.5 years.
    4. New and pre-owned Large Jets will be in higher demand, driven by a significant increase of HNWIs and UHNWIs worldwide.
    5. Business jets will, in part, replace seats on commercial aircraft, for reasons of schedule predictability, hygiene safety, and service flexibility.
    6. In 2022, no less than the current 5.4% of growth in worldwide avionics sales recorded between 2020 and Q1-3 2021 are projected (data only, from Aircraft Electronics Association).

    Outlook #3: What this all means for avionic sales and integration is:

    1. High demand for pre-owned aircraft will drive the retrofit market.
    2. International transactions will lead to demand for upgrades and retrofits to meet different regional operating requirements.
    3. A desire for luxury cabin upgrades from HNWIs partially assumes long lead-times and low delivery numbers from the aircraft OEMs due to parts delays, steer some new aircraft buyers towards the pre-owned market.
    4. Demand for high-speed broadband with an international (anytime, anywhere) service that is as proficient as current US continental services.
    5. Because of the rebound in flight activity, there will be growth in Turboprop and Light to Mid-size Jet sales (though not as strong as Large Jets). Mostly to satisfy domestic operations, avionics retrofits will include Air-To-Ground (ATG) broadband, Departure Clearance using FANS (DCL) and other helpful tools for domestic flying.

    Mandates or Operational Requirements

    Airworthiness authorities worldwide, are tweaking existing mandates, such as ADS-B Out, Performance Based Navigation and FANS. In some cases, there have been delays to implementation dates due to the pandemic.

    However, apart from requirements to operate within different airspace regions, there is very little most operators need to equip for that they have not already implemented.

    Outlook #4: Unless, as an owner/operator, you are playing catch-up, look to meeting individual operational requirements and not mandates (such as ADS-B Out). 

    While those requiring equipage mostly need for international or oceanic trips, some domestic ‘flight advantage requirements’ such as digital Departure Clearance (DCL), are also in the forecast for 2022 avionics activity.

    Limitations to a Positive Avionics Outlook

    The situation resulting from Covid-19 and other non-aviation issues, has created an environment that could hinder a positive avionics outlook. These are mostly global in scope and indirect in their influence, including:-

    1. Manpower shortage, especially for skilled labor: For avionics, this is especially concerning, as it is a somewhat esoteric profession to the average high school or college graduate. The shortage leads to less available hangar slots, and longer integration times.
    2. Parts and material shortage: From electronic chips to copper wire, anything in short supply or delayed, and will lead to longer equipment and integration lead-times.
    3. Cautious investment: New product development, company growth and capital equipment acquisition are at risk when investors hold back. Current investors look for quick returns and predictability, both of which are in short supply at present.
    4. Shortage of engineering and certification specialists: Most retrofits and upgrades require certification. Equally, most need some level of engineering. 

    While facilities may have avionic technicians, they also rely on avionic engineers and certification personnel. These specialists are highly sought, and any glitch in their availability adds to schedule delays. Remember that certification requires airworthiness authority oversight, and if that involves an understaffed entity it further adds to the delay.

    Systems Available to Purchase and Integrate in 2022

    Avionics systems can be grouped for the different categories of business aircraft, and it is worth mentioning that, along with many of them, there will be an additional opportunity for:

    1. Optional capabilities, including service provider and database features.
    2. An extension or commencement of service programs, provided by the equipment manufacturers, which support the maintenance of new or upgraded systems. In line with the different stated outlooks, it is helpful to categorize available avionics into four groups.

    Your aircraft may need to catch-up on its technology, or it may be a candidate for the forward-looking technologies that were/will be newly introduced to the market in 2021 and 2022.

    As indicated previously, delays in engineering and STC certification can delay aircraft integration, even if the equipment itself is ready. These potential delays can apply to either catch-up or forward-looking technologies. The dynamics in 2022 that drive the outlook for each group, will also be different. The four groups are as follows:

    • Catch-Up Technology (Cockpit)
    • Catch-Up Technology (Cabin)
    • Forward-Looking Technology (Cockpit)
    • Forward-Looking Technology (Cabin)

    The term ‘Catch-Up’ is a catchall for technologies that have been designed, built, installed, and certified for several years, and in some cases many years, in several types of aircraft. Meanwhile, the term ‘Forward Looking’ is a catch all for technologies that are relatively new or still evolving, to a large extent.

    One example of why a pre-owned aircraft would not be equipped with ‘Catch-Up’ technology could be that it did not need it for the type of operation previously flown.

    Another would be that some companies who are IT-sensitive have been reluctant to provide broadband or satcom connectivity to their passengers. That attitude can change over time, or with new aircraft ownership. So, it is not unusual to encounter pre-owned aircraft needing ‘Catch Up’ technology.

    Tables A through  D provide the different technologies within each group.

    Outlook #5: Increased interest for ‘Catch-Up’ avionic systems is anticipated, as the shortage or delay of new and newer pre-owned aircraft platforms creates a demand for older models that are less likely to have desired or necessary avionics, both in the cockpit and the cabin.

    While HNWIs and corporations will seek out new avionic suites and a full cabin refresh, fractional and charter operators will seek to mirror the equipage in their existing fleets. Mirrored upgrades will be more functional in nature, and possibly minimalistic.

    Outlook #6: Some new technologies, such as cloud-based applications, are not yet mature enough for a high uptake. Some, such as Space-Based ADS-B, are not requiring equipage just yet, and should not require anything more than a service provider contract. Others – such as Quick Access Recorder devices – which capture, and (if connected) send crucial engine performance data in real-time, have an acceptance, linked to other aircraft systems.

    Outlook #7: Expect a significant demand for 4G-, and soon 5G-capable ATG broadband internet services and, as they come on-line, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite versions of the same.

    Outlook #8: As Head-Up Displays (HUDs) shrink in size and cost, and as both equipage and operational certification of low vision operations become less of a hurdle, expect to see a flurry of new and novel vision solutions, for both new and pre-owned aircraft types, some of which should blossom in 2022.

    Outlook #9: Obsolescence of both cockpit CRT-based displays and legacy Cabin Management Systems (CMS) will drive up demand for replacements, which will be potentially lucrative to the industry.

    At least for cockpit display replacements, STCs are usually required. Where an STC doesn’t already exist, a new one will need to be developed at considerable effort, unless your aircraft model is listed on the ‘Approved Model List’ with an AML STC.

    Outlook #10: There will be plenty of work to go around and plenty of avionics choices for buyers to purchase. 2022 should look a lot like 2021 until all the pent-up demand is exhausted. Worldwide inflation and the necessity to save our planet could usher in a leveling of growth across all of aviation as Q4 2022 comes to a close.

    In Summary

    This article has not addressed the emerging avionics technologies required for urban air transport (eVTOL), unmanned, and supersonic aircraft. Designs and prototypes for these are fast emerging, and 2022 should see the emergence of specialized avionics for these innovative platforms.

    Aircraft manufacturers have much to benefit from the demand for efficient, low-cost, time-saving cockpit technology. MROs and avionics shops have many pre-owned aircraft to modernize and enable for operations in different regions, as global transactions multiply.

    Colleges and learning facilities must ramp up and qualify more avionics technicians, designers, engineers and certification specialists, while equipment manufacturers must rethink both their supply chains and business models. 

    Employee retention will be crucial in 2022. Existing, financially driven, decisions may need to broaden and include the family needs of skilled personnel. These considerations will have an impact on avionics business, across the board.

    Optimistically, the pandemic cloud is clearing somewhat to release the wound-up coil of pent-up demand. This will see growth in sales of new ‘large aircraft’ avionics, 4G and 5G broadband systems, plus pre-owned aircraft flight deck and cabin retrofits, as the big winners of 2022.

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