“We're confident the only other solution out there will be a very expensive one—the OEM,” says Scott Campbell, director of airline and military sales for Universal Avionics, a provider of CMUs and flight management systems (FMS) and other avionics. “We will be able to come in for a fraction of the cost.” The OEMs in this case are typically Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Thales.
Campbell says the “low-hanging fruit” for Universal is the regional and corporate jet market, but that its equipment will “most certainly” work for heavier aircraft as well. He says the market size is “in the thousands.”
Though the Link 2000+ mandate applies to altitudes above where regional jets typically fly, operators may decide to equip regardless. “There is a line of thinking that these operators will want [to equip] because they don't want to be stuck in the penalty box somewhere,” says Campbell, alluding to the much touted “best-equipped, best-served” priorities for next-generation air transportation systems.
Universal already sells a FANS 1/A-compliant “Unilink” CMU for Acars uses, and is developing a Link 2000+ software update to handle CPDLC messaging. The CMU includes a VDLM2 radio, says Campbell. He says that while customers with the Universal CMU tend to have a Universal FMS, the software upgrade will make the CMU compatible with third-party FMS, increasing the potential for retrofit work, which he predicts will cost about $100,000 per aircraft, not including labor.
“Some of the operators we're talking to are looking at provisioning the aircraft, installing the rack and the wiring and putting the box in later,” he says, adding that Universal is planning to roll out Link 2000+ training software in 2013.
Honeywell doesn't appear to be worried about the competition from third-party avionics providers. “Most airlines will have to work with Honeywell to meet this mandate,” says McDowall. She says a third-party solution may make financial sense for “some operators who had very minimal equipage,”but she says for the “vast majority” it makes more sense to go through the OEM. “If they go non-OEM for current mandate, what does it do for the future?” asks McDowall.
Craig Peterson, director of marketing for avionics and flight controls for Rockwell Collins, says that Boeing and Airbus and other airframers who have already had to deal with the “first wave” of Link 2000+ equipage due to the 2011 forward-fit mandate will help OEMs retain the retrofit business. “Since [airframers] made sure production lines were compliant, then ultimately they're incentivized to promote that [avionics kit] as a continuity solution,” says Peterson. “They typically promote that production base to the installed-base community.”
McDowall says there has also been “some concern” about approved third-party equipment in terms of human factors. “One maker is very adamant about the visual signals [of an incoming CPDLC message] in the pilot's forward field of view. It has received supplemental type certificate, but it may not be optimal.”
So when will airlines decide to equip?