Friday, September 08, 2006

Avidyne - Guest Editorial

The comments just keep getting more informative.

Kaptain Kool-Aid said...

First off, thank you, Stan, for this creating this forum. I have followed it for the past several months and enjoy your witty style of presenting the facts as you see them.

The recent comments generated by your other readers have inspired me to join the discussion and add my own two cents.

srmach5 makes some great points and I agree that insurance requirements are going to be a major road block to many would-be jet jockeys. The Eclipse 500 may well be the easiest to fly, most highly integrated turbine aircraft this side of the Falcon 900EX, but it is still a pressurized, FIKI-approved, twin-engine jet, capable of flying nearly eight miles high at more than 350 ktas (but not at the same time). The point is, you just simply cannot transition directly from a piston single into a twin jet and safely fly by yourself – no matter how “easy” the plane is to fly. A pilot with less than 1,500 TT, 500 multi, and at least some turbine time should expect to be sitting next to a “mentor pilot” for quite some time.

Insurance companies like to see pilots gradually progress from flying simple, trainer-type aircraft to more and more complex aircraft before reaching the “holy grail” of the twin jet. Yes, I realize that turbine aircraft are actually easier to operate and Eclipse has gone to great lengths to ensure their product is the simplest jet ever built, flying-wise. However, the problem is not just flying the aircraft, but rather operating it safely within today’s congested and complex airspace. Controllers are used to dealing with professionals in the upper flight levels, not dilettantes. Additionally, although Eclipse touts the ability to “fly up to 41,000 feet, avoiding almost all weather” (a direct quote from the FAQ on Eclipse’s website) you still have to occasionally deal with adverse weather when you decide to land. And while AVIO is very capable, it cannot land the plane in IFR minimum conditions… at Teterboro… at night… in February! Speaking of AVIO, this leads me to the real topic I would like to address in this post.

Avidyne has enjoyed much success since introducing the world’s first truly “glass panel” flight deck for general aviation. Their first generation product, FlightMax Entegra, got its launch in the Cirrus SR20/22 in 2003. From there it made its way into the panels of Diamond, Columbia (nee Lancair), Piper, Adam and Symphony aircraft. Garmin subsequently introduced its G1000 glass panel system into the marketplace. It first appeared in the Cessna singles, then Mooney, Beech and even Tiger aircraft. Diamond and Columbia have since certified the G1000 in their aircraft as well (Diamond has dropped Avidyne, while Columbia still “officially” offers it, but it is my understanding that since introducing the G1000 not one customer has opted for the Entegra package). Garmin has a great reputation, solid company financials (over $1B in the bank and ZERO debt!) and, most importantly, stellar customer service. Avidyne’s reputation in the customer service area is dismal by comparison. Please note: I do NOT work for Garmin, but I am in the aviation industry and have sampled products from both companies firsthand. The fact of the matter is both companies produce good products, each with their own set of pros and cons. When they are functioning properly they’re great, but when the electrons start misbehaving that’s where Garmin is light-years ahead of their competition.

Vern Raburn has stated publicly in a variety of outlets that the certification delays affecting the Eclipse program are the direct result of his vendors not meeting their timelines. His strongest criticism is aimed at Avidyne. When the Eclipse 500 finally receives its certification in the near future, it will be delivered WITHOUT the following avionics capability:

Flight Management System (FMS)GPS Navigation (i.e., no moving map)
Weather RadarElectronic Checklists
Electronic Charts
Traffic Collision Avoidance
Ground Proximity Warning
XM Weather
Note: In addition to the above, both Autothrottle capability and Flight Into Known Ice (FIKI) approval will NOT be available when certification is granted.

To make up for this appalling lack of flight critical items, Eclipse is going to issue each affected customer a brand new Garmin (hmmm?) GPSMAP 496 to restore at least some of the missing functionality caused by Avidyne’s delays.

This whole avionics snafu is ironic as Eclipse has fought their customers repeated requests to install electromechanical backup instrumentation because it was deemed unnecessary due to their huge reliability factor (They claim a 0.00000001% chance of failure). So, let me get this straight. Eclipse’s $775k… I mean $837.5k… er, $995k… um $1.295M… Oh, wait a minute, its not June 2000 anymore! O.K., so their $1.52M aircraft can’t do what a $2,800 handheld wonderbox can! Unbelievable! This all gives credence to my belief that Eclipse is going to continue to have serious issues with AVIO - and its manufacturer - from the day they hand over the first set of keys. If they’re having this much trouble now, just wait until they have upwards of 200 airplanes scattered about the country with ADAHRS failures popping up like dandelions in Stan’s neighbors yard! And those customers who signed up for the JetComplete enhanced service program, are in for a rather rude awakening if they expect to make one phone call and have their electronic demons exorcised within 24 hours as promised by the program. Let’s just say that Avidyne is not known for carrying a large stockpile of spares on hand.

Before I conclude this post, for anyone with an extra 90 minutes to kill you can listen in on an Eclipse teleconference between Vern Raburn and his deposit holders. Here is web address:

http://easylink.playstream.com/eclipseaviation/progressive/eclipseconf070706.wav

The teleconference originally took place on July 7, 2006 and is primarily comprised of Vern explaining the deficiencies in the current aircraft followed by a lengthy Q&A period with individual deposit holders. It’s a very interesting conversation to say the least. My personal favorite quote from Vern comes near the end of the recording where he says, “…in essence, what I have said is we have used up all of our design margin”. In other words, folks, it’s as good as it going to get. I am now reminded of one of the oldest axioms of our industry: It’s easy to make a small fortune in aviation… just start with a large one! Good luck, Mr. Raburn!

P.s. Does anyone happen to have one of those WCSYC (We Couldn’t, So You Can’t) stickers Eclipse handed out years ago lying? I bet a pristine one would bring big money on eBay today!
12:38 AM, September 08, 2006

7 comments:

Kaptain Kool-Aid said...

The last paragraph should have read, "P.s. Does anyone happen to have one of those WCSYC (We Couldn’t, So You Can’t) stickers Eclipse handed out years ago lying around? I bet a pristine one would bring big money on eBay today!

Stan Blankenship said...

As I recall, the instrument panel frame-work is machined out of a one-piece solid plate of aluminum that is integral to the fuselage structure.

It does not appear to have any flexibility in terms of adapting to changes in equipment.

Further, if the panel was installed in the static test article, it becomes aircraft structure by definition. Any alteration to the structure will require the involvement of a stress engineer to prove the change will not affect the structural integrity of the aircraft.

SRMach5 said...

Spot on kaptain kool-aid. I wonder what other comments will be generated in this forum to what I would personally perceive as fact mixed with some hearty witicisims.

flight guy said...

Great audio file, Kaptain.

Most notable was looking back at Osh Kosh it became obvious why the aircraft was going to be "certified" one way or the other. Eclipse gave customers 30 days to cancel orders. The conference call was on July 7 and of course the provisional was given on July 27, 2006. There was not much room to spare. Of course the stage show actually prevented the majority of cancellations for the 2400+ orders, which ironically as a side bar he mentioned has open blocks to fill for big orders and move deliveries. Regardless, it was not until after a couple of weeks proceeding Osh Kosh did the "transparency" of the performance numbers for the majority in the industry came to the light of the day.

Even in the audio, Vern confirmed that his range numbers are based upon flight at FL 410, but would not give fuel flows. However, his speed numbers are expected for 32-33kft which is assumed to be cruise. Based upon the flight profiles on flightaware, the plane may not see 41,000 ft or 33,000 feet for that matter.

Lastly, not to steal much more of Stan's real estate. It is becoming more obvious that the complexity of the Avio system was by far more complex than originally invisioned by Eclipse and becomes ever more complex day by day. That fact was mentioned by Vern himself where in summary he said that they should have done a better job of knowing when to stop the development and design phase of the process.

My thoughts. There are a lot of former under performing suppliers out there who would attest to that fact.

SRMach5 said...

I know I am going to catch some flack for this but as I was re-reading kaptain kool-aids comment, I chuckled at the word dilettante. Has anyone looked up the definition?

Definition - person who takes up an art, activity, or subject merely for amusement, esp. in a desultory or superficial way; dabbler

Synonum - amateur

Not to put you on the spot kaptain, but do you want to expound upon your perception of the typical Eclipse pilot? This may generate some good discussion from others I know who view this website and are members of COPA.

Mind you, I am not throwing darts, nor do I believe this is the kaptain's attempt. Personally, I believe the Eclipse will not be an airframe your 500 hour Cirrus SR-22 pilot will be able to transition to without the 'babysitter' in the right seat. Call me skeptical, but how many other 500 hour pilots do any of you know who are flying light twin-engine jets right now?

Furthermore, does anyone want to hedge a guess as to how many Cirrus owners who have less than 1,000 hours of total time have orders for the Eclipse? I would love to know that figure.

hrr said...

Stan,

I wonder, how many suppliers has Eclipse blamed so far, for delays in the program, or other failures to perform as advertised?

Do you have any plans to cover this subject in the future?

Stan Blankenship said...

flight guy,

"Eclipse gave customers 30 days to cancel orders."

I would love to see an Eclipse purchase agreement that allows the seller to change the terms of the contract.

My guess is that the seller is in default in so many areas including failure to meet even the latest performance guarantees, that a buyer could terminate at any time up until the day of scheduled delivery.

In a previous comment regarding the Mustang's slow cruise speeds during the F & R flights, that may be as fast as the airplane will go at altitude, but on the other hand, the goal was to log 300 hours. So the speeds could represent long range cruise numbers.


hrr,

It would be interesting to talk with former suppliers. I remember one press release announcing the selection of a company in Nova Scotia to do sheet metal parts.

That press release is no longer on the Eclipse web site.

As far as new posts...running out of ideas but am working the draft for one this weekend.

With the exceptional material the guest editors are putting up, I may set back and let them do the work.