- 14 Jan 2022
- Andre Fodor
- Flight Dept Mgt
What’s at the top of your wish list when it comes to upgrading your private jet flight deck? Andre Fodor shares his top three cockpit enhancements…Back to Articles
The world of cockpit upgrades and retrofits is a fascinating one, opening up a plethora of possibilities for enhanced operations in aircraft, whether large and small. With so many options, it’s easy to develop a long list of gadgets you’d like to have installed in the jet - but what’s really worth having right now?
Having never planned to own an airplane, a fellow corporate pilot and close friend approached me with the idea of resurrecting a 1962 Beechcraft Musketeer that had been parked in a hangar for the past seven years.
Nicely preserved, it needs a new engine and a full avionics upgrade. The latter not only requires mandated upgrades (such as ADS-B Out), but we have also generated a long wish list of items that extends far beyond our pockets. But then, it’s well known that aviators love toys!
Visiting avionics websites and vendors to learn about what technologies are available to retrofit in older aircraft proved to be eye-opening. Flying the latest, most-modern jets, I had become disconnected from the thriving upgrade and modifications market that breathes new life and capabilities into older airplanes, extending their operational life.
Also illuminating was the fact some of these retrofits offered greater functionality than the modern cockpits coming fresh off the OEMs’ assembly lines.
There is, of course, a reason for this. The aircraft OEMs face challenges to deliver the most advanced equipment in a timely manner. However, due to the complexities of aircraft certification, they must develop and integrate equipment that meets the latest and most stringent certification guidelines.
Because of the complexity of the process, the full potential of new technologies may be limited to what can be certified within a certain timeframe and budget by the OEM.
In contrast, there’s an entire industry of post-delivery and aftermarket providers who, though faced with stringent certification guidelines, enjoy greater latitude to deliver advancements through STCs that are often quicker to be approved.
As an example, when the ADS-B Out mandate approached in 2020, there was a rush to certify equipment that complied with the requirement.
Although there were two modes widely available on the market for transmitting ADS-B data, I found myself arguing with an OEM that it delivered a Large Jet to our flight department lacking a fully-functioning system.
Long, difficult negotiations ensued over who would pay the cost to remedy the problem. Since ADS-B In was not mandated, it was not included in the aircraft, even though STC’d systems already provided ADS-B In solutions to owners and operators of older models of the same jet.
When committing to upgrades, it’s essential to be diligent. Ask questions. Verify that the upgrade complies with your aircraft’s registry. Is it applicable and legal within the airspace you will operate in. Is it already STC’d for your aircraft make and model? Don’t allow yourself to be dazzled; simpler, cheaper options, providing similar benefits may be available.
The BizJet Pilot’s Wish List…
Having provided a word of caution, it’s an inevitable fact of flying that crews love the ‘bells and whistles’ of technological advancement in their cockpit. Following, in no specific order, are what I believe to be the three most-desirable upgrades today...
Moving Map Technology: Taxiing operations at large airports are challenging enough. It’s even more so when you consider taxiway signage is designed for higher cockpits, causing problems for smaller aircraft operators to maintain situational awareness.
The development of moving map applications has reduced runway incursions and erroneous taxiing operations leading to violations and serious accidents. These applications, which may also combine aircraft performance, also reduce the chance of overruns and takeoffs from wrong runways.
My smartphone alerts me of my position, impeding runway crossings, and, upon entering a runway, the length available for take-off. I use it in our corporate jet, and I plan to bring it along if the Beechcraft Musketeer project ever takes flight.
The cost to integrate moving map technology into cockpits is significant, and in our late-model jet came to almost $100k. However, with the advent of iPad and ADS-B/GPS portable receivers, sophisticated mapping applications can be utilized in any aircraft.
LPV Capability: Providing precision approaches at airports otherwise limited by the equipment costs, Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance (LPV) functionality has undoubtedly increased safety and operational flexibility at numerous airports.
I’ll never forget how, at one of the locations where we regularly fly, in the days before precision approaches fog would often blight our arrivals. The problem was resolved once the aircraft became LPV capable and we were assured lower approach minimums.
As LPV hardware has matured, upgrade options for older aircraft have become more numerous and affordable. Today, whenever I charter aircraft for supplemental lift, my first question is whether the aircraft is LPV-capable.
Combined Vision System: The aircraft I fly is equipped with an Enhanced Flight Vision System (EVS) enabled by a super-cooled infrared camera installed in the nose. This looks forward of the flight path sensing heat signatures, including runway lights.
It’s a system I wouldn’t have wanted to be without in the past, but there are a few caveats: Airports are switching to LED lights, which don’t emit heat. Also, crosswinds may point the nose away from the source of heat during a crab. And EVS is really at its most effective near approach minimums.
Make no mistake, EVS is awesome technology, but it’s complex, expensive, prone to extra maintenance cost, and needs proficiency to operate.
On the other hand, there’s the Synthetic Vision System (SVS), delivering improved situational awareness and safety by depicting obstacles, buildings, towers and airports on your primary flight display, just as in real life.
Today, cockpit advancements have combined synthetic vision with real-time images from on board cameras and infrared data from the EVS. The combined technology is the Combined Vision System (CVS), which provides a truly amazing visualization of the outside world, and would have to sit at the very top of my wishlist for a cockpit upgrade.
A few short years ago, some of the technology available on the most modern, largest business jets were a mere fantasy for owners and operators of smaller jets.
However, miniaturization and technological advancements are making those dreams a reality for many. Several of the once-out-of-reach devices are able to fit into just about every platform.
With further exciting developments ahead of us, isn’t it time for you to write down your wishlist of cockpit upgrades? Do you dare to dream? The evidence suggests those cockpit dreams really do come true these days!