Garmin VP: Advances in avionics mean better safety, reliability

Avionics in the cockpits of single-engine aircraft and business jets have come a long way, and Garmin, located in Olathe, is constantly thinking of what’s next.

Avionics have advanced from conventional round mechanical gauges to display technology, giving traditional information such as heading and attitude but adding electronic charts, weather, moving maps, radar, terrain avoidance and a bevy of other information – all of which is put at a pilot’s fingertips.

Now, newer products are trending toward touchscreen technology and better interfacing with smartphones and iPads, said Phil Straub, vice president and managing director of Garmin’s aviation division.

The advances in technology have increased safety and reliability, said Straub, who spoke at the Wichita Aero Club’s luncheon Tuesday at the DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

“We have access to information that before wasn’t available,” he said.

During the presentation, Straub fielded questions from Matt Thurber, Aviation International News senior editor.

Since joining Garmin in 1993, Straub has been involved in the development of Garmin’s aviation products, including embedded software development and certification flight testing. Straub currently oversees all of Garmin’s global aviation business activities, including engineering, marketing, sales, flight operations, and aviation customer support.

Innovation is the “lifeblood” of the company, Straub said.

One of Garmin’s latest products is the G5000 flight deck used in Bombardier’s newly announced Learjet 70 and 75 business jet.

Among Garmin’s goals is to make products easier to use.

For example, products are advancing from making the pilot remember where to find information on a screen to being more intuitive, Straub said.

It’s moving from "line selection to something much more graphically" presented, Straub said.

Data are shared among systems as well, Straub said.

In the future, avionics will provide more safety in the cockpit by limiting how much a pilot could overbank or otherwise experience a loss of control. For example, when a plane reaches a certain bank limit, the plane would automatically return to a safe envelope.

In addition, there are “building blocks” in the system that could land an airplane should a pilot become incapacitated, he said.

It may be years in the future, however, before the advent of pilotless airplanes, Straub said.

A challenge the industry faces is a shortage of engineers and technicians.

“There’s still a shortage out there,” Straub said. There aren’t enough engineering students in school, he said, especially software engineers.

He urged more people to pursue careers in engineering and avionics.

“We do cool things,” he said. “What we’re doing as an industry is cool.”