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The Ins And Outs Of Avionic Upgrades

Avionics is expanding rapidly. You should be prepared.

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    Technology, in general, is a rotating door. One day you think you have the latest and greatest phone or TV, but the next day there is something even better.

    The Jetsons predicted our modern-day video calling, tablets, and robotic vacuums. Now we have 100 different options to video call and our robotic vacuums can even mop.

    The iPhone is a perfect example of progress. When the first iPhone came out it was a heavy block that allowed you to take okay photos, listen to music, and iMessage at a rather costly expense. Today’s iPhone may cost almost the same as when it first came out, but its features are unparalleled in comparison to its predecessor.

    The same can be said for avionics. If you wanted to upgrade your avionics package 10-15 years ago, your options were slim and there wasn’t much to upgrade.

    With the increase in demand for aviation and FAA regulations, accessibility to these avionics packages has become a lot easier. Today, there are multiple options on the market with different features and functions that bring avionics to modern-day technology.

    With so many factors to consider, it’s important to be educated on the matter. It can be costly, but the value can outweigh the cost if done right.

    In the following sections, we cover the ins and outs of an avionic upgrade. We’ll cover the following subjects so that you can make an informed decision when it’s time to upgrade.

    • Reasons to Upgrade Your Avionics
    • Factors to Consider When Upgrading Your Avionics
    • Planning is Key to a Long, Trouble-Free Avionics Life

    Reasons to Upgrade Your Avionics

    You might be asking yourself, “Why should I upgrade my avionics?” Well, that’s a valid question. There are several reasons why you should or need to upgrade your cockpit with the most up-to-date avionics technology.

    Obsolete Parts

    Obsolescence is probably the biggest reason that an upgrade is required. The technology in avionics, like everything else, rapidly changes and advances. The days of vacuum tubes and spinning gyroscopes are gone.

    Newer technologies are smaller, more reliable, and use less power. As parts become unavailable or too expensive to repair, an upgrade is the best solution.

    FAA Regulations

    The FAA is always coming out with new rules and regulations. Some of these require the installation of new equipment in order to comply. A good example is the ADS-B Out mandate that went into effect on January 1, 2020.

    If you’re not familiar with ADS-B, it stands for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast. It’s a technology that allows aircraft to be tracked by ground stations and other aircraft equipped with ADS-B receivers. The FAA requirements state that all aircraft must be equipped with ADS-B Out transmitters by January 1, 2020.

    This means that if your aircraft isn’t equipped with ADS-B Out, you’ll need to upgrade your avionics in order to comply with the new regulation.

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in charge of what constitutes an airworthy aircraft. If an aircraft is using an out-of-date system that doesn’t comply with current airworthiness standards, it will be grounded until it is brought up to date.

    The FAA also has a significant role in determining obsolete components, which has allowed this sector of aviation to grow. There are things the FAA demands that may not be truly beneficial to the owner, which leads to companies getting creative and bundling non-integrated systems so it creates value.


    When it comes to spending any large amount of money, value plays a big role in the why factor.

    Obviously, you don’t want to spend any more money than you have to. But with avionics, it is important to balance the cost of the equipment with the benefits and value it provides.

    There are many different ways to achieve this. The first way is by choosing an integrated system that will provide more value in the long run. These types of systems will often have a lower upfront cost and provide more features.

    The second way to get more value for your dollar is by choosing a system with the latest technology. This will ensure that your cockpit is up-to-date and you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

    The last way to get more value is by choosing a system that is easy to maintain. This will save you money in the long run by not having to replace parts as often.

    The value will vary from each individual; however, most share the same question: Will the aircraft’s value increase after the installation outweigh the costs associated?

    However, there is seldom a 100% return on investment, yet after an installation, the aircraft’s price rises dramatically. If you expect to sell the plane within a year or two of the upgrade, this will help you speed up the process because many individuals do not want to deal with this sort of renovation unless they are flying the plane themselves.


    The primary reason for upgrading your avionics should be safety. New technology is developed all the time that makes flying safer.

    For example, GPS was once a luxury item that only the wealthy could afford. But now, it’s become a standard piece of equipment on most aircraft. And it’s not just because it’s a cool gadget to have. GPS has become a vital safety tool that helps pilots navigate and avoid hazards.

    Another example is ADS-B. As we mentioned before, this technology allows aircraft to be tracked by ground stations and other aircraft equipped with ADS-B receivers. This information can be used to help avoid collisions, provide better situational awareness, and even offer live traffic updates.


    In addition to safety, another big reason to upgrade your avionics is convenience. New technology can make flying easier and more enjoyable.

    For example, if you often fly in areas with bad weather, a new GPS unit with terrain awareness can help you avoid dangerous situations. Or, if you fly long cross-country flights, an autopilot can take over the flying duties so you can rest or take care of other tasks.

    The bottom line is that new technology can help make flying safer. And that’s something that’s always worth investing in.

    Factors to Consider When Upgrading Your Avionics

    • Mission
    • Want vs. Need
    • Upfront & Ongoing Costs
    • Ease of Use & Maintenance
    • Upgradability
    • Existing Equipment and Wiring- Integrated and non-integrated
    • Installation
    • Downtime

    Want vs. Need

    This can greatly impact the cost and length of the entire project. What you want may not be what you actually need. And what you need, may not be what you like or want.

    The cost may help you meet your demands while staying within budget and obtaining the improvement you require.

    As much as you want something, such as an improved range or a faster rescue time, the usefulness and timeframe of completion will ultimately determine your avionics upgrade.

    Upfront and Ongoing Cost

    The biggest factor affecting your buying decision is the cost associated with the installation and any ongoing costs.

    As we mentioned before, some systems have a higher upfront cost but offer more value in the long run. Others might have a lower initial investment but require more money to maintain.

    You’ll need to decide what’s best for your budget and your flying needs.

    An integrated installation may cost more upfront, but what is the rate of return year over year by choosing this path? The components may not require any replacement for the next 20 years and upgrades may be easy to install, therefore making it cost-effective.

    A non-integrated installation may cost less than an integrated installation, however, another component may need to be upgraded sooner than later, which may not work with the current comments in place. So, you may be seeing an upgrade again sooner than later, however, you’ll get the latest and greatest more frequently. This concept is similar to leasing a car. You’re always driving a newer model, but it comes at a higher price.

    Another ongoing cost to take into account is the operating costs. The software running the computers is a key component. This software, like any other software out there, has to be updated to ensure the latest information is provided. There is typically a monthly fee or one-time fee associated with the software operation.

    Ease of Use and Maintenance

    The last thing you want is a complex system that’s difficult to use or maintain. This can lead to frustration and, ultimately, decreased safety.

    Choose a system that’s easy for you to understand and use. And make sure it’s something you’re comfortable with before you invest in it.

    Think about the pilot, who could be you. The pilot will have to become familiar with the new software. The less time it takes to use the program, the fewer people will require training.

    In addition, features like pre-flight planning on an iPad can save time on the runway, getting the passengers to their destination even faster.

    With the ease of use, you can save time, which in turn saves money.

    Maintenance is also inevitable; therefore, you’ll want to go with the most effective product on the market that requires minimal maintenance.

    Ease of access to the equipment and components will help with the cost of maintenance, as well. The best way to learn about avionic maintenance is to speak with your technician.


    As discussed earlier in this article, avionic technology is ever-changing and at a rapid pace. Be sure to factor this in when choosing the brand, components, and package. You want to ensure that any changes can be easily modified and cost-effective.

    The last thing you want is to be stuck with a system that cannot be upgraded or is cost-prohibitive to do so.

    Existing Equipment and Wiring- Integrated and non-integrated

    Can you integrate new technology with your existing equipment?

    If you can, this is called a non-integrated system. This means that any new components are not originally engineered to work with your current system as a whole. One or more components, such as displays, transponders, flight management systems, or other elements, can be added to the cockpits of certified aircraft.

    The main benefit of a non-integrated system is that you can piecemeal the installation, adding only what you need now and planning for future upgrades as your needs change.

    If you cannot integrate the new technology with your existing equipment, then you will need to replace your entire system, which is called an integrated system.

    An integrated system offers many benefits, such as weight and space savings, as well as reduced wiring.

    The main downside of an integrated system is the cost. You will need to replace your entire system, which can be expensive.

    You’ll need to decide what’s best for your budget and your flying needs. An integrated installation may cost more upfront, but what is the rate of return year over year by choosing this path? The components may not require any replacement for the next 20 years and upgrades may be easy to install, therefore making it cost-effective.

    No matter which option you go with, be sure to consider checking your wiring. With older jets or aircraft, the wiring may not be up to par with the technology you are installing. This will need to be addressed before the new equipment can be installed otherwise you might end up with the equipment not working properly.


    Installation can be a daunting task and, if not done correctly, could lead to serious consequences.

    You’ll want to make sure you have a qualified technician who is up-to-date on the latest technology and can properly install the equipment.

    Pick a facility that is easy to get to or a location that is easy for the technician to get to. If there is ever a time you need something troubleshot, ease of access is key to getting it done.

    There are many different types of installations, from simple bolt-on upgrades to more complex integrated systems. The costs can vary greatly, so it’s important to get several quotes and compare the prices.

    An experienced technician will go over the details of the installs including mounting, power, layout, training, and more. These items should not be skipped over as you will want to know that the weight complies with your aircraft’s requirements or that the mounting is done properly so there is no structural damage.

    Unauthorized installations might result in recurring difficulties, as well as decreased performance or structural failure. A structural assessment will be required for the installation of new equipment.

    Many methods of validation may be used to fulfill airworthiness criteria. The aircraft manufacturer may provide all the information needed for installation in certain situations.

    However, be sure to check to see whether the data includes an FAA approval before installing it. A Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) is usually the next most effective approach to support avionics upgrades. An existing STC may often be a less difficult method than obtaining new validation.


    You’ll also want to factor in the downtime. How long will the aircraft be out of service? This is important to consider, as you don’t want to be without your plane for an extended period.

    A good rule of thumb is to plan for twice as long as the estimated install time. This way, if there are any delays or problems, you won’t be left stranded.

    Planning is key to a long, trouble-free avionics life.

    There are many ways to go about upgrading your avionics. The most important thing is to do your research and ask lots of questions. Once you have a good understanding of what you need and what is available, you can make an informed decision about which path is best for you.

    Get in touch with SkyView Avionics to learn more about what STC’s we offer. We can help you make the best decision for your aircraft.

    Our team at SAM can assist you with planning your next avionics project. Give us a call at 1-888-568-1338 or fill out our online form to get started.

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