Since launching King Air flight deck upgrades with the Garmin G1000 avionics suite in 2009, Stevens Aviation avionics technicians have performed more than 40 installations. The G1000 upgrade has proved popular in the King Air family, with more than 400 completed so far for the roughly 2,000 King Airs that qualify for the Garmin-owned STC.
In the past two years, Stevens Aviation’s Nashville, Tennessee location has grown to 10 from three avionics technicians, and sales reached a record last year. “Our business has taken off like crazy,” said Nashville operations manager Gary Brown. At the end of March, Stevens Aviation Nashville had 10 King Airs in its hangar and another four on the ramp waiting to begin the upgrade work. Stevens also does the G1000 upgrade at its Dayton, Ohio, and Greenville, South Carolina locations.
Stevens Aviation’s G1000 King Air upgrade includes some additional, sometimes subtle, improvements that set it apart from competitors, according to Brown, and most of these are included in the price. One of the first steps is to remove as much of the existing wiring as possible, especially wiring that isn’t needed to run the new avionics. Then the techs repaint the avionics shelving and fabricate new firewall connectors.
The customer can elect to retain some existing avionics, such as the radio altimeter, DME, cockpit voice recorder, or ADF; these items can be difficult and costly to replace if they aren’t retained during the upgrade, and Stevens Aviation doesn’t charge extra to keep those or to add the necessary wiring. In some cases, Brown said, a customer might want to keep the ADF but not its cockpit display, so the ADF remote boxes are retained, new wiring is added, but the display is removed and preserved, so that a future buyer who wants ADF can easily add it.
Putting new avionics in an older airplane can result in a big contrast between some of the flight deck furnishings and the new instrument panel, so Stevens Aviation pays attention to other elements. The glareshield is sent out for recovering with fresh leather and application of black foam on the bottom to prevent light bleed-through. Yokes are wrapped completely with baseball-stitched leather and fitted with new Davtron clocks, while yoke caps are polished so they look like new. Worn-out controls and overlays are refurbished, with knobs and markings repainted and updated, including the throttle quadrant and overhead panels. Two new felt-lined iPad holders and USB ports for each pilot are included. Luma Technologies LED crew alerting system panels are available as an option, and Stevens Aviation will install them at no additional labor charge. “You get a cockpit that’s really brand new,” said Brown. The cabin is fitted with True Blue Power USB ports.
The average weight savings for the G1000 upgrade is 250 pounds. “We did have a King Air 300 that lost 489 pounds, and a 200 lost 498 pounds,” he said. “They had a lot of old entertainment equipment that the customer wanted removed, and we didn’t upcharge for it.”
The avionics removed from the upgraded King Airs are now approaching zero value because there isn’t much demand for old avionics. “We used to see $75,000 to $85,000 trade-in value,” he said, “but now that’s about $10,000, and it’s continuing to go down.” The exception is if Garmin 430/530 com/navigators are being removed, as these still hold strong value.
The G1000 upgrade, which is now the NXi configuration with faster display processors and HSI map overlays (except for the C90), includes the GFC 700 autopilot. Garmin’s Electronic Stability and Protection is optional, and some customers choose to add that. Most buyers opt for the Platinum package, which includes Synthetic Vision Technology, charts, and the Flight Stream 510 wireless gateway, according to Brown. All G1000 upgrades come with ADS-B Out, WAAS LPV, and RVSM capability (the operator must obtain a letter of authorization from the FAA for RVSM).
Typical downtime for a G1000 upgrade at Stevens Aviation is 15 to 20 business days. The company also offers interior refurbishment, phase inspections, and Blackhawk engine upgrades that can be done at the same time.
If the work is done in Nashville and the King Air (200 series and above) is from out of state, the customer doesn’t have to pay sales tax.
For pilot training, Stevens Aviation’s Nashville location offers a cockpit simulator equipped with a G1000 NXi suite. Pilots can load flight plans, fly a route and instrument approaches before climbing into the airplane. “It’s proven to be a handy tool,” Brown said.
While the Stevens Aviation G1000 upgrade quote “is going to be higher than the competitors',” he said, “we’re not going to nickel and dime you to death. We give the customer a good quality product.” Every installation is thoroughly tested before the first test flight. “Since we started doing them, we’ve never had an airplane come back with a squawk,” he said.