I have been flying off and on for nearly 40 years. I’m just an average working guy, but two years ago when my kids were all launched, my job seemed fairly secure and my debts were mostly paid off, I fulfilled a lifelong dream by buying an airplane.
I found a 1974 Piper Warrior for about the same price most of my friends paid for their SUVs. The majority of my flying is cross country and I usually file IFR. I hate scud-running and like being in the system.
Last summer I was IFR over Lansing, Michigan, en route to Saginaw when the vacuum pump failed. The weather at Saginaw dictated that Lansing was the better option, so I advised ATC and was vectored for the ILS 28L approach. I turned and descended through a few thousand feet of overcast on partial panel and landed with only sweaty palms to show for it (thank you Dick Collins for all the Air Facts videos).
That event started me looking into avionics redundancy and upgrade options, which is the purpose of this writing. As I implied earlier, my budget is not bottomless, and I don’t know if it’s even prudent to have more invested in avionics than in the airplane, so I have been searching for cost-effective options. In my research I have discovered a wide gap between approved or TSO’d avionics and avionics for homebuilts and LSAs. As a new owner, that’s a real surprise, and the logic of it totally escapes me.
My 40-year old Piper is far less sophisticated than the current class of high-powered homebuilts. For example, a Glasair or Lancair, when compared to my Warrior, can haul similar payloads but will fly significantly higher, faster and farther, yet for some ancient, bureaucratic reason my Piper is not allowed to use the same newer, more capable and less expensive avionics and autopilots that they do, although we all fly the same airways, airspace and systems.
Is TSO’d equipment really twice as good and twice as reliable as today’s non-TSO’d, because it seems to cost that much more?
Is there any room for exceptions or waivers in the process? I wouldn’t suggest an LSA-level EFIS in a Gulfstream or Citation but there are lots of old Cessnas and Pipers still flying that could benefit from a reasonably priced electronics overhaul.
Would better equipped aircraft have any effect on the accident rate for general aviation? I suspect that at least one category, inadvertent flight into IMC, would show some improvement with wing-levelers or autopilots installed (to combat loss-of-control), but again, TSO’d models are two times the price of non-TSO’d.
Maybe my budget still isn’t big enough to own an airplane, but with all the discussion around the declining pilot population, I would imagine anything that increases safety and lowers cost would be a positive step.
Looking for some conversation, feedback and opinions…
So Air Facts readers, what would you advise Ed? Share your opinions with us and let’s explore this topic.