Buying additional Q100/200/300 models would be ideal, but price is problematic. “When one or two come to the market, no one can out-price the U.S. government,” says Einarsson, explaining that the U.S. is purchasing the aircraft for special-missions platforms. “It won't change,” he says. “This is a cheap special-mission aircraft.”
The company began the Dash 8 cockpit refresh project in 2007 with internal funding. “We saw a requirement, particularly for special-mission aircraft,” says Adrian DiPietro, Field Aviation's sales director for business development. The company held a “vendor's conference” with all major avionics providers, ultimately selecting Universal Avionics and going to work on a prototype.
Key to the program's success was devising the Ametek interface to the engine instruments and tapping into the Honeywell avionics standard communications bus structure behind the legacy SPZ-8000 integrated avionics suite, says DiPietro. The backbone of the integrated avionics, the bus ties together the autopilot, data computers, attitude and heading reference system (AHRS), EFIS, primary flight displays, ground maintenance functions and advisory status messages to the flight crew.
Field and Universal cracked the code. “That allowed us to focus on changing out components that it made sense to change out, while leaving in the autopilot, air data computer, AHRS, and other equipment,” says DiPietro. “Having to change all that would have made the price too high.” After 18 months of development work, ground tests started in 2009 and two flight-test campaigns, racking up more than 100 hr. total, were completed in 2010, achieving TSO for the EFI-890R in October 2010.
A launch customer arrived in early 2011 in the form of the Icelandic Coast Guard, and Field earned Transport Canada and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) supplemental type certificates in April 2011. The first Air Iceland Q200 arrived in September 2011.
The company is working with the FAA to validate the upgrade, which could give Field entry into a potentially lucrative Q100/200/300 upgrade market in the U.S. Cost for the cockpit refresh can be as low as $600,000 for a fleet order or, with typical options, around $1 million uninstalled, in the case of Air Iceland's equipage. DiPietro says he expects to obtain the FAA STC in the first half of this year.
Per Air Iceland standard operating procedures, Universal Avionics' Vision 1 synthetic vision system (SVS) is turned off during our arrival. Though snow and low visibility can be factors in reaching the airport, it is typically the wind that causes aborts, says Hanson. Due to the nearness of the mountains, winds as little as 10 kt. can scuttle an inbound flight, while 40-kt. winds are acceptable with certain alignments. Wind is light today, and visibility is adequate.
The SVS would have provided situational awareness for the initiated, but Baldursson had adequate visibility to keep his path tight to the mountain to our right to give him enough room to make the corkscrew left turn to line us up with the 4,600-ft. Runway 08.
“Because the system is new, we are just trying to take things very slowly,” says Jonasson of the SVS, noting that the carrier has not yet crafted procedures for the technology. “We have some hiccups with it because we have old pilots and young pilots in the group. It can create a misunderstanding of how to use it.”