5
$\begingroup$

I am quite sure that someone already asked this question, but I couldn't find it on this site.

Why are avionics for general aviation aircraft so expensive?

For example:


The Garmin® G5

$ 2,149.00

Garmin G5


The mighty Garmin® G1000

$ ~ 50,000.00

Garmin G1000

Nobody can tell me, the hardware and development for a small screen costs more than 2,000 dollars. Or two screens with some knobs for the price of a middle-class car. (Of course, those avionics are not bad, they are worth every cent. But it still looks expensive for me.)

  • What causes this, quite high price?

I guess it's because of high licensing costs to license it for use in aircraft, or are the production costs really so high?

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ IMHO - the answers are "scaling" and "certification". $\endgroup$ – gusto2 May 18 '17 at 12:38
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ "Nobody can tell me, the hardware and development for a small screen costs more than 2.000 dollars.". Why not? They can, and they do. This is not consumer electronics produced in hundreds of thousands or millions of units. $\endgroup$ – Simon May 18 '17 at 14:05
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Compare a non-TSO instrument with a TSO instrument and you'll understand where a good portion of the costs come from. These two units are exactly the same, almost a \$1000 price difference. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer May 18 '17 at 14:13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hardware? No. Development? Definitely. The effort spent on developing the hardware and software is counted in man-millennia. Times at least $100,000 per man-year and divided by the mere tens of thousands of units produced… $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec May 18 '17 at 19:37
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ (Full Disclosure: I work at a company that makes avionics, although I work in a different, unrelated division.) Its amazing how much work the avionics software developers have to do to make sure every line of code is rock solid. Every tiny piece of code is absolutely perfect, has been tested an absolutely insane amount, and performs incredibly fast. This is nothing like a "regular" Android App, which might all manner of bugs or slightly "odd" behavior. They make every effort to make the software fast, rock-solid, and prove that it is solid. $\endgroup$ – abelenky May 19 '17 at 16:21
6
$\begingroup$

There are a few reasons,

  1. As many have mentioned the FAA's rigorous certification process is time consuming and complicated to navigate. You can find a full overview from them here. In short you need to do a lot of paperwork and thoroughly test and prove your designs.
  2. Once you have your TSO/STC/TC on the product you must maintain it. This means you need to budget in for future problems and updates. If a plane goes down as a result of your avionics and the FAA decides to ground all aircraft that have your part installed (rare but they can do it) you are going to have a lot of angry customers on your hands. While I do not believe a company is legally obligated to provide a fix it is in their best interest if they wish to stay afloat.
  3. Charts change all the time, most modern avionics with navigation capability require regular updates. This is something the company needs to maintain for their avionics to be legal for certain kinds of operations.
  4. The hardware is expensive! avionics generally require a greater level of precision than your iPhone GPS and 3 axis sensors. Most modern AHRS use micro-mechanical internals, magnetometers and other complex (read costly) units. These units need to maintain precision at all times. Generally speaking they are also double or triple redundant so you are paying for 3 of them while an iPhone may only have one GPS receiver. The screens are also high quality, daylight readable screens, small additions but it all adds up.
  5. Like in any high speed/high risk industry I am sure the insurance premiums to insure an avionics business is high. Keep in mind that the FAA/DOT has the ability to blame you the manufacturer in the case of an incident that was the result of a faulty part.
  6. Avionics (glass in particular) can be certified for specific air frames. This means that you may need to work with multiple companies to test out your platform in multiple air frames and program in multiple engine/air frame data sets. You may also need to build bracketing to mount and install the system. Some systems are designed to be drop in replacements like the Aspen units. Others may require larger panel overhauls to install. There are a huge number of other systems aside from the air frame/engine, like the auto pilot, other radios, ADF units etc. that your system may need to interface with. You would need to test with all of them to include them on the AML list of things you can install the unit with. This is a costly testing proposition in and of its self.
$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ The other thing to consider is that even with your TSO, a Type Certificate or Supplemental Type Certificate likely needs to be obtained. $\endgroup$ – selectstriker2 May 19 '17 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ Edited to reflect $\endgroup$ – Dave May 19 '17 at 15:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Rule of thumb: about two-thirds of the price of anything you buy for a GA aircraft goes to liability insurance. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jun 29 '17 at 22:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You forgot scarcity... in the sense that only a few companies are certified and/or make quality avionics people want to buy (so they can charge whatever they want -- captive market sort of thing), and also in the sense that there's not exactly huge amounts of these things flying off the shelves every day (low volume of sales), which drives costs up per unit for the manufacturer, which means it drives costs up for the consumer. $\endgroup$ – SnakeDoc Jul 7 '17 at 18:43
8
$\begingroup$

The cost of rigorous FAA certification versus number of units produced would be my subjective opinion. Count on our little glass horizon not full up Galaxy 7 catching on fire or even just failing when needed. That's one of several things we pay for, again: opinion without data.

$\endgroup$
7
$\begingroup$

Other answers cite certification, and that is a big cost. Additionally, a very large issues is the number of units that will be sold, and supported for the unit lifetime.
For comparison, Samsung has shipped 10 million S8 Galaxy phones within months of release. While the total size of the US General Aviation fleet is under 250,000. How many of those aircraft can Garmin realistically hope to put the G5 in? Avionics are rarely upgraded, and aircraft are kept operational for a long time. If the development costs are at all similar, but Garmin expects to sell 4 orders of magnitude fewer units, they need to charge more of the development cost for each unit.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

I now found what I think is the answer:

Wikipedia: Avionics software

It's really a great expense to develop an avionic.

The main difference between avionic software and conventional embedded software is that the development process is required by law and is optimized for safety. It is claimed that the process described below is only slightly slower and more costly (perhaps 15 percent) than the normal ad hoc processes used for commercial software.

The process of development is really huge and the price is justified.

  1. Human interfaces
  2. Hazard analysis
  3. Maintenance manual
  4. Design and specification documents
  5. Code production and review
  6. Unit testing
  7. Integration testing
  8. Black box and acceptance testing
  9. Certification

I can't imagine how this must have been looked while developing the G1000 or similar.

Source of quotes

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ I expect you will find that the added expense for using DO-178B/C rather than general industry standard processes increases cost much more than 15%, especially for Level A or B software. I've seen estimates of upwards of 50% for Level A software. $\endgroup$ – selectstriker2 May 19 '17 at 15:12
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I believe this is basically the correct answer. You can't hire a competent programmer for under 200k, and if you want "the best" it's pricey. Shit software is quick to develop, solid embedded-like software is tough and slow to develop. $\endgroup$ – Fattie Jun 29 '17 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ You can certainly hire excellent programmers for under 200K (and even 100K). And embedded software isn't intrinsically more difficult or time consuming. The added cost is really in the certification burden placed on avionics. $\endgroup$ – selectstriker2 Aug 15 '17 at 13:55
3
$\begingroup$

Basically, the development and certification costs are high and the production volume is low. So each unit that is sold has to pay for a substantial part of the development costs.

Apple's iPhone's are produced at a production rate of over 500 000 per single day. There is no way any avionics product will ever be produced in such a volume over the entire product lifecycle. For many avionic products a total volume of 10 thousand is a number that will never be reached. Compared to an iPhone that is procuded in a volume of approximately 200 million units, the factor of cost for development in the price is 20 thousand times a big .

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.