Interview With Dan Schwinn Of Avidyne, Part III Of VI
In July of this year,
we sat down in a conference room at Avidyne's Bedford, MA
headquarters with Avidyne's President, Dan Schwinn. In a
wide-ranging interview we discussed Avidyne's products, some of its
future plans and possibilities, and a bit of the future of GA in
You've already read Parts I and II of Aero-News's July
interview with Avidyne President Dan Schwinn. In those parts of the
interview, Dan proudly described the range of Avidyne's OEM
customers He also tells us how a recent flight -- as a passenger --
in an Avidyne-equipped plane taught him how Avidyne users are
taking advantage of the capabilities of the datalink system in ways
even he hadn't expected.
In Parts III (today) and IV, you'll get the inside scoop on how
Avidyne turned to a savvy old airline captain when it was first
integrating radar with its systems, and how Avidyne is working with
Eclipse Aviation on the most integrated aircraft in GA history --
maybe in the history of all aviation. Dan also gives his view of
And in the forthcoming Parts V and VI, we talk about the future.
That's where I ask loopy questions about Avidyne's future making
integrated avionics for private spacecraft and light sport
aircraft, and Dan dismisses those ideas as loopy -- except, he
doesn't, exactly. Will Avidyne be in the heaviest bizjets, or in
airliners? What are the obstacles? And what about the future of GA
in general -- does it have one?
The interview picks up
with Captain Archie Trammell, a radar expert whose instruction made
him the go-to guy for getting the most out of onboard radar. As Dan
reveals, Avidyne grabbed that experience as soon as they knew they
were going to put radar on their displays. Here's what
Dan Schwinn (right): You know, Archie Trammell
was the guy who for many, many years taught people the nuances of
using an onboard radar. And we had him come here and do a class at
Avidyne. We rented him for the day and he came in and he did his
whole class. And this was when we were first starting to do
We don't actually make the radar, we make the display. So we had
all these people making radar displays, and we had all these
brilliant ideas for how we could take the data coming out of the
sensors and show it, and it's like, "Is this a good idea or is it
not a good idea? We need somebody who KNOWS something about this
So we had him come in and train all of our engineering and
marketing people on what radar can, and can't, do for you.
And that influenced our future product design. On how we display
-- we take an old radar and we can colorize it, we can do range
eliminating, we can figure out how we can do all this great stuff
But which of it is a good idea, and which of it is a bad
Aero-News: You've gotta give pilots things that
meet their expectations. But at the same time, here you're giving
them something they've never had before.
Dan Schwinn: Well, that happens with datalink.
Nobody's ever had this before. And I think in general, it's just
going to be one of the best utilities that's been added to the
flight deck -- probably since area navigation.
For heavier guys, maybe enhanced ground prox[imity warning]
should be on the list. But for light GA guys, there's not quite as
much of a percentage of CFIT as there was with the big guys. So I'd
say that this datalink is going to be one of the most important
things to happen.
And then, of course, you have all the different guys providing
the various forms of it [datalink]... they're all doing well with
Aero-News: Now, that's another thing. We have a
bunch of people in the industry doing different things with their
displays. I've long been a fan of Chelton because of the way they
do the terrain and obstacles. Are we ever going to see any of that
on the Avidyne side?
Dan Schwinn: Yeah. We're probably going to take
a little bit different approach than Chelton did, in the sense that
you will probably see us incrementally adding synthetic vision type
features to our displays. Rather than what Chelton did: they
basically did a whole large amount of things at once.
We'll probably put a bunch of things on there, try to prove 'em
out, make sure they work.
You know, one of the things that we've got, is the case that
there's three Cirruses a day going out with our flight decks in
them. And another one a day from Piper. So with that kind of a
volume base, we have to be a little bit more conservative in terms
of some of the innovation that we do.
So, what I think'll happen on the Synthetic Vision side, is that
we're likely to put together a kind of initial capability, and
serve it up to our OEM customers. And get a lot of input on it. In
some camps, there'll be resistance to change.
And then we'll have some kind of a Syn-Viz Release One. And do
some interesting things.
The other thing we have to accommodate, when we have thousands
of users out there with our products already, is that we have to
have a very clear plan for who gets to upgrade into what, and who
doesn't. What is only available on new systems?
Aero-News: You must have several iterations of
systems out there. I imagine there's 2,000 Cirruses out there
Dan Schwinn: Yes, over 2,000, and some 1,800 of
them have our equipment. But there are different generations of
But you know, to date -- other than the people who don't have a
PFD -- there isn't a single function we've added that you couldn't
put on your first one that ever shipped.
Aero-News: PFD Systems.
Dan Schwinn: Well, you know, the first MFD,
that went out three and-a-half, four years ago, can do CMAX Charts
and can do XM Weather. So to date, there has not been a single
feature that we have added to our systems, that the first guy to
get one can't have.
But that's not going to go on forever!
Aero-News: There's going to be a time when you
say you're not going to support the Mark I...
Dan Schwinn: It's not that we won't support
them. It's that... maybe not every single new feature will be
available on the very first thing we ever made. We haven't got to
that point yet. I think we're going to be able to do some syn-viz
on the systems that are out there now. But at some point, if we're
doing, like super-high-density 3D terrain modeling, [we're not
going to be able to do it on all existing Avidyne hardware].
Well, the other possibility is that, up to date it's all been
software upgrades. At some point there may be a kind of a more
powerful... something or other, required.
Aero-News: A "forklift upgrade" on the
Dan Schwinn: Yeah. Not with a real forklift,
maybe. But the point is, that we have to really think through where
we take people. And of course, the ideal thing is for customers to
be able to upgrade it as inexpensively and as long as possible, so
that's kind of our prime directive.
It's not always going to be possible, but that's where we
Aero-News: How do customers do an upgrade? Do
you get a large number of people come back for the new features in
their older system?
Dan Schwinn: Yeah. Jamie [Luster, of Avidyne]
just worked on one [program that we just rolled out, putting XM and
CMAX on one of the EX 500s. [Note: Avidyne's previous-generation
MFD was the FlightMax750. The current-production MFD is the EX500).
The numbers -- what are they now?
Jamie Luster: I would say 85% upgraded their
software to the new features. And out of those, probably 60%
upgraded to XM [which requires buying a subscription] and maybe 40%
got the CMAX.
Aero-News: Wow. So it's really getting good
Dan Schwinn: Yeah, it's huge.
Now we rolled this out -- when did we first talk about it,
probably in fall last year -- we did XM on Cirrus at Oshkosh. And
then we did XM on everything else, and multilink, and all that
other stuff at AOPA and all of that.
And so what's happening is, about six months have passed, in
which anybody who's paying attention to any publication whatsoever
Aero-News: Goes, "I can get this on my
Dan Schwinn: And we did a promotion to get it
to 'em cheaper and get it sooner, because we like to get everybody
to upgrade. 'Cause they're going to be happier customers.
Aero-News: And of course, it tightens up your
support costs. If you're maintaining fewer iterations, fewer
Dan Schwinn: But just in this last case, in a
couple of quarters, we've shipped out huge amounts of upgrades.
Cirrus has gotten a huge amount of upgrades on XM and new charts
features. So we get pretty good uptake on that.
Aero-News: And I imagine that becomes a sort of
a profit center for you as well.
Dan Schwinn: Sometimes it is. For example --
and there are a lot of reasons behind this -- people who wanted to
upgrade to the charts feature, that was a cost option, and it was a
significant cost option. So that was a profitable feature.
What we did for people who already had datalink weather, we
basically said, "This is the next generation of datalink, we now
call it Multilink, 'cause it supports multiple links, but you've
already paid for datalink capability so it doesn't cost you
anything to upgrade.
So it depends. If you get a new feature that's an enhancement of
an old feature, we might just do it on a goodwill basis. But if its
something brand new and a high-function thing, [we'll charge].
In the case of the Jeppesen plates, we actually have a cost
associated with that, because we had to license the technology from
Jeppesen. So there's a number of factors which go in to the pricing
Aero-News: My point is, you're not just an OEM
Dan Schwinn: Oh, yeah. Well, we've got the OEM
business of selling boxes to guys who build airplanes. We have the
aftermarket, which is selling boxes to guys who already have an
airplane. And then we have, sort of, another element of the
aftermarket, which is selling upgrades to either one of those two
Some people call that second one, "retrofit." So they call it,
OEM, Retrofit, and Aftermarket. We call 'em both "aftermarket."
Aero-News: What about the experimental market?
Are you selling into that at all?
Dan Schwinn: We sell into it, but not very
Aero-News: I imagine it's a costly system. A
lot of those guys are price sensitive.
Dan Schwinn [to Jamie Luster]: Do we keep track
of that? We probably sell a few EX500s to experimental guys?
Jamie Luster: A few, and to Lancair Kit. A
couple last quarter. [NOTE: In Aero-News's interview with Lancair's
Kim Lorentzen, she described how Lancair is doing a lot of
instrument-panel completions with advanced Avidyne panels].
Dan Schwinn: The experimental guys have the
option of using lower-cost stuff than all of us certified guys tend
to make. Which allows them to get stuff from vendors like OP
Technologies and Blue Mountain Avionics. They're making some, what
appear to be pretty interesting non-certified products, that a lot
of experimental guys are buying.
Aero-News: They don't have the cost base that
you have, in order to get it through [certification].
I mentioned this to Jamie before. At one time you ran on the NT
Dan Schwinn: All of our MFD stuff runs on
Aero-News: Oh, it still does!? I remember
talking to somebody a long time ago [note -- this was in the 1990s]
and they were concerned about the possibility of getting that
Dan Schwinn: We've had it certified for a long
time. But the interesting thing is, and we've had this happen
sometimes with our blessing, and sometimes without -- you know, if
you take it apart you can install different software on the
So when we sell a couple of units to MITRE, to use on an
experimental flight test basis, of course that's what we expect
them to do with it. But you sell them to some guy driving a Lancair
experimental, and he's playing around, putting different
applications on his MFD, then it's no longer certified.
Which is fine, because they don't require it to be certified [in
Experimental aircraft]. But it's also no longer gonna necessarily
work right! Which isn't necessarily fine.
Aero-News: And once it leaves your shop, to an
experimental guy like that, you have no control over it any more.
But you may still have a liability tail.
Dan Schwinn: That's right. And we don't really
have control over it to anywhere it goes. But the fact is, if you
want to maintain it certified, the we do have a sort of control,
because we're the only ones who can modify the software.
It's TSO'd, and a company would need a supplemental type
certificate or be an OEM [who can add it to their type certificate
-- ANN]. That's our installation basis.
Aero-News: Have you issued AD's on this? [Yeah,
we know, sloppy wording, only FAA issues AD's -- ANN]
Dan Schwinn: We haven't yet. But if we ever
have a significant problem, we would put out a mandatory service
bulletin and we would request that the FAA do an AD. And they would
probably do that.
If you did a mandatory service bulletin that wasn't for a
safety-related reason, the FAA probably wouldn't be willing to do
an AD. But assuming it was for a safety reason, they would.
To Be Continued...