More than a decade ago there were five GPS manufacturers making IFR-approved units. ASF asked for a group meeting, along with FAA, to discuss some level of input standardization. No two units worked the same way so we suggested that core IFR-essential functions be somewhat standardized.
The core functions were Direct To or selecting a bearing from a fix , setting up an approach, missed approach procedure, and holding. Everything else would be left to the manufacturer to innovate. A pilot, once trained on core functions, could fly any box in the IFR system without extensive retraining although they might not be able to use all the clever or advanced features that were built in to every system.
Obviously, we didn’t prevail in what I still think was a common sense human factors approach. Innovation was the goddess of the day and there is certainly merit to that argument. However, there is much to favor in commonality where flight critical operations are concerned. Many pilots do not have a monogamous relationship with an aircraft. Renters, CFIs, club pilots, pilot examiners and other assorted vagabonds who fly multiple aircraft got saddled with a complex and expensive training barrier.
“Legacy” units that are either orphaned by a defunct builder or one who has left the old boxes behind often have scant or way too much documentation. Personally, I find 200 page manuals daunting – especially for an aircraft that I may only fly every few months. It’s tough to find good computer-based simulation to practice or even a CFI who knows how to run an earlier generation unit, let alone teach it. Most installed avionics have a life span of 15 – 20 years and unless one has a generous allowance for upgrades, we’ll be living with a very mixed fleet for some time.
As it stands today, pilots who wish to fly glass models of classic aircraft will spend many hours and perhaps thousands of dollars to get back into the cockpit of an old friend. Flight management systems are wonderful devices that were originally designed for two pilot flight decks, a strong training infrastructure, and the cost is usually on someone else’s nickel.
As we start to see some maturity in the GPS market and even a few new players coming back in to broaden the field, is it time to ask the same question again or should market forces continue to hold sway?
Would appreciate your comments and experiences.