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Since it began operating the Dash 8 turboprop more than 20 years ago, Voyageur Aviation has deployed the aircraft around the world, gaining specialized expertise in the legacy 100, 200, and 300 models. A division of Chorus Aviation Inc., Voyageur is based in North Bay, Ontario, and includes airline, maintenance, engineering design, and parts divisions.
Some time ago, the company flagged a series of looming obsolescence concerns with the legacy Dash 8’s original avionics package. For example, its 1980s-era CRT (cathode-ray tube) cockpit screens are no longer manufactured and replacements will soon be unattainable. Honeywell is no longer supporting the aircraft’s existing weather radar, and Voyageur realized the aircraft’s attitude heading reference system (AHRS) needed to be upgraded.
“We realized it wasn’t possible to just take out the AHRS and replace it,” explained Aaron Brodhagen, MRO sales manager at Voyageur. “There are few heading reference systems that can interface with the existing Honeywell legacy system. So, we started to look at the cockpit as a whole. We wondered: ‘What else will be an issue in the future?’”
In 2019, Voyageur approached avionics manufacturer BendixKing to discuss possible upgrades for the legacy twin turboprop platform.
“We see a lot of life remaining in the 100, 200, and 300 products, especially with the OEM extended service program that prolongs the aircraft’s life by 50 percent,” said Voyageur president Cory Cousineau. “We see the platform being useful for many years into the future, so we wanted to combat certain elements of obsolescence while satisfying regulatory requirements and safety requirements for the avionics suite. We looked at it from the fact that the Dash 8 classic is still really relevant, no matter the operations.”
Voyageur’s collaboration with BendixKing resulted in the AeroVue Dash 8 integrated cockpit upgrade, targeted at regional airlines as well as special mission operators. Currently under development at Voyageur’s North Bay headquarters, the upgraded avionics package will catapult legacy Dash 8 cockpits into the modern era.
“It involves an integrated avionics platform developed by BendixKing and Honeywell, essentially an after-market version of the Honeywell Primus Epic – a very current and capable platform,” said Brodhagen.
The AeroVue Dash 8 standard baseline package for regional airline operators is comprehensive and includes three 12-inch LCD displays, two primary flight displays, synthetic vision, track-centered display, one multifunctional display, dual 24-channel WAAS GPS receivers, dual Mode S transponder with ADS-B Out, weather radar, traffic collision avoidance system, and more.
“It offers a lot of extra capabilities,” continued Brodhagen. “The baseline package will suit the average commercial regional operator. But when you talk special mission, the needs are different. We can tailor it, there are several options we can add depending on needs.”
Brodhagen said Voyageur has now installed the AeroVue system in one of its Dash 8-100 aircraft and ground testing is underway.
The company plans to flight test the Dash 8 cockpit upgrade in early 2022 with certification to follow. Brodhagen said Voyageur is working hard to keep the upgrade not only effective but also affordable.
“A regional aircraft operator doesn’t have big pockets to buy fancy avionics equipment,” he commented. “We wanted to get the baseline package in the realm of what operators would have to do to hit all of the aircraft’s obsolescence issues and the mandatory upgrades such as ADS-B. The pricing of the baseline AeroVue package will be very competitive with existing market options.”
No customers have signed on to date, but he reported “a great deal of interest in the marketplace.”
The AeroVue Dash 8 upgrade will take less than 2,500 hours to install. Brodhagen said that while installations may initially take about 12 weeks, Voyageur is aiming to reduce that to seven weeks as time goes on. In addition, companies can install the modular kit themselves.
“They will have some wiring to do, but we will complete end-to-end wiring harnesses,” he said. “The bulk of the work will be stripping the airplane of unnecessary hardware and then preparing mounting provisions for our package.”
The AeroVue upgrade allows operators to kiss 300 pounds of old wiring and trays goodbye — a welcome weight savings that translates into an extra passenger and their baggage, for example.
Voyageur will hold the STC for the upgrade, while BendixKing contributed invaluable expertise to complete the interface with the legacy Honeywell avionics system.
Brodhagen said Voyageur has also built an instrument procedural trainer (IPT), a mobile differences trainer that will be made available to customers. The IPT was displayed at the 2021 Air Transport Association of Canada conference in Montreal, Nov. 16 to 18.
“We think we have a product that has a lot of superior features at a reduced installed cost,” concluded Cousineau. “We are very bullish about the demand because there are true obsolescence issues with the legacy Dash 8s. As long as there is a continual need for this aircraft, I think demand will stem from a number of factors, including regulations and safety.”
Once the AeroVue Dash 8 integrated cockpit has been certified, Voyageur plans to launch a similar program for legacy ATR 42 and 72 turboprops that are currently equipped with the Honeywell SPZ-8000 flight guidance system.
Benefits of the AeroVue Dash 8 Cockpit Upgrade
- Enhanced reliability and capability
- Lighter weight, lower power consumption
- Improved situational awareness
- Synthetic vision
- Simplified maintenance
- Modern equipment with a long life expectancy
Watch the Dash 8 AeroVue cockpit video here: