Honestly I don’t think the main experimental-market avionics suppliers (by which I mean Garmin, GRT, and Dynon/AFS) are really that overpriced, all things considered (heck, same for most of the aircraft kits themselves). Sure, the prices may sound ridiculous if you compare them to a home-brewed setup with your own software and hardware you pulled together yourself... but there’s a lot going on with these guys that doesn’t look obvious at first glance.Throughout my research I have discovered that we are only scraping the surface of what is possible. My utmost goal is to eliminate the absurd high cost of cockpit instruments and avionics.
It is absolutely ridiculous the prices for these items. Sometime ago, I said to myself that there has to be a better and more cost effective way.
I have found hardware with 9 axis capability, =/-2,-16 g, built in barometric pressure, G.P.S., and other. I ever found one fellow that had built a crude transceiver in the beginning stages of development.
For those of us that fly in the experimental category, I do not feel there is as much experimenting going on throughout the community as there should be. We should be the leaders in technology transfer as well as the ones who prove what can be acceptable for safe air operations in all aircraft. When a new product comes out it should say that it was proven viable in the experimental aviation community.
There is way too much innovation in technology available for us not to drive costs down from the main stream companies. Even items listed as non certified are ridiculous in cost.
For one thing, they all seem to be trying to build actual “aircraft-grade” hardware—by which I mean, hardware that can meet the various environmental, electromagnetic, and usability standards for avionics. That means designing and testing for temperature, humidity, vibration, etc. as well as radio interference, sunlight readability, and so on... and then sourcing known good components, from reliable vendors.
They also are trying to keep their hardware standardized. Even if you aren’t driven to the levels of proven “conformity” paperwork like the FAA desires for certified gear, you still want standardized and serialized components and products so you can be sure your design, software, and testing are as valid on unit 547 as they were on unit 2. The traceability will cost you more—as will a contract that locks you in to a supplier who will guarantee that they’ll keep using the same materials and processes and keep making the parts you want for a long time, and not just drop production of your screen or sensors six months after you go to market. This might mean buying large batches of components at once (like maybe 2-3 years’ worth or so!) just to get the price down to something reasonable.
You also need to pay people to do your design, production, and customer support—everything from drawing out the boards, to assembling the units, to writing software, to testing (and testing, and testing, and testing... anyone involved in aviation software knows your testing is never done, because there are always bugs and new features), to shipping, to answering customer emails/phone calls, to fixing returned units. You aren’t going to find these people flipping burgers at McDonald’s; you have to pay them decently if you want a quality product. Then there’s the overhead costs—working space, insurance, tools, marketing (including trips to Oshkosh and SnF) and so on. And you have to cover your R&D as well (Dynon and Garmin both worked on getting STCs for their equipment; GRT is slowly working on an IFR GPS capability), and the ever-present bogeyman of liability insurance. Remember, lots of people are out flying in IMC with these systems and they need the confidence (i.e. demonstrated reliability) that they’re going to work.
Remember that the experimental avionics market is really a pretty small market—a niche within a niche. ROM estimate for homebuilt completions in the US is about 1000 aircraft/year; I don’t know what the figure is for the rest of the world but maybe half again that number? Anyway, let’s figure that of those very roughly 1500 new aircraft per year, only 1000 of them are going to fit one of these systems. Then let’s look at the upgrade market; of a very rough ballpark of ~30,000 homebuilts flying, let’s say 5% (1500 aircraft) are going to upgrade their avionics in a given year. That’s a total market of maybe 2500 systems, per year, split among the big three vendors and a handful of smaller players. And this isn’t like the consumer electronics market; most of these people aren’t going to drop the systems they have after one or two years for the next shiny one (like people ”upgrading” their phones every year). That’s a lot of work and a lot of cash; think of an avionics package as a capital investment, more like an engine that’s expected to last 15-20 years before overhaul/replacement.
Also remember that longevity is a major part of the brand in this market—Dynon and GRT tout their history in the experimental market and still support old units. Many of us were around to see what happened to Blue Mountain; nobody wants to buy a system and see it orphaned (either through dropping support or the company folding). This means the companies need to be run with a certain level of conservatism—you need to be profitable, yes, but as someone else (Toobuilder?) pointed out when talking about Van’s, this market can have some real highs and lows and swings. You need to make sure you have the cash reserves to hold through a “down” market.
So in the end, these guys are trying to cover R&D, support, production, procurement of bespoke components, testing, overhead, and insurance, plus maintain strong cash reserves and “rainy day” funds, almost exclusively on the sale of relatively few units per year.
It’s no wonder all these systems cost so much...
Evidence? I’ve been pricing out avionics for a while and GRT is my current front-runner. I haven’t noticed their prices going up in the past several months, though they did drop the HXr system for the 10.1 due to a supplier issue. It looks like the price for some of their displays may have gone up when they went away from separate ADAHRS units and just integrated those functions into the displays themselves.I recently noticed that GRT raised the cost on both glass panels they sell by adding a 1,000 dollar increase on both panels.