There are many different ways to upgrade an instrument panel. Putting in a 696 here, a JPI engine monitoring system there, even an Electronic HSI. But, if you want to swing for the fences and get a serious upgrade, you have to go for a complete glass instrument panel. For good measure, you might as well throw in a touch screen GPS while you are at it.
Which panel to go with? There are two mainstream options (Garmin and Aspen) and a handful of other companies that make glass panel replacements (Avidyne being one, King for a short period of time at the end of the last decade being another with the KFD 840). Around 2010, there were a lot of companies trying to get into the glass panel retrofit game, but many of the products didn’t gain a whole lot of popularity, leaving Garmin and Aspen at the top of the heap.
What about the touch screen GPS market? Garmin has this pretty much cornered as well, with Avidyne and King just getting into the game. The gap between Garmin’s GTN series and Avidyne and King is pretty wide.
The answer is pretty easy when it comes to the GPS (go with Garmin!), but not so easy when it comes to the panel. The G500 and the Aspen Evolution series are both excellent interfaces with strong reliability, so which one do you go with? Feature-wise, both have a lot of the same features: traffic, weather, terrain, synthetic vision, to name a few. The presentation for each feature is a little different between the two interfaces. It just depends on what you like better.
The nice thing about the Aspen system is you can go glass, but you have options on how much glass you want: 1 screen, 2 screens, or 3 screens? With the single screen PFD, you have all your instrumentation, traffic, weather, and optional synthetic vision. You don’t need the synthetic vision for the traffic and weather, as it shows up behind your HSI. It is an honest to goodness glass panel retrofit.
When you decide to upgrade to 2 screens, this is where Aspen has a leg up. The second screen is a completely redundant PFD and, if you get the 2 hour emergency backup battery installed, acts as the backup instrumentation to the main PFD. This means you can take out the old steam gauge standby instruments. This helps clean the panel up.
I personally don’t see the need for 3 screens, but maybe there is someone out there who needs it.
One selling point that Aspen has over Garmin is the wide variety of autopilots and GPS units that Aspen units are compatible with. The G500 is only compatible with King autopilots, it’s own GFC 700 autopilot (which would be a retrofit), some Collins autopilots, and the Century 21, 31, 41, and 2000. This does cover a wide array of autopilots, but it keeps some on the outside. Aspen, on the other hand, is compatible with most autopilots on the market.
Finally, let’s talk price. Going with an Aspen EFD 1000 PFD (this is the single screen Aspen) will run you somewhere in the area of $12,000. The price will vary based on the shop and the airplane. When you want to add a screen, it’s an additional $6,000. This is for the base, so if you want to add weather or synthetic vision, it’ll run you a little more.
The Garmin G500 comes in around $20,000, again depending on the shop and the airplane. The screens are bigger on the G500, which is kind of nice, and you are buying a Garmin product, which has a fabulous track record in the aviation industry.
Decisions, decisions. There really is no wrong answer here. Both are excellent products with very good track records. Both have really nice features and don’t hardly fail. Really, the choice comes down to what you want.
Need training on your upgraded GPS or glass panel retrofit? Contact Texas Top Aviation for thorough training on your new avionics today.