Saturday, 20 June 2009

L3 and Cirrus talk to lawyers

A few years ago L3 started showing its SmartDeck system at trade shows. It sported big screens, an intuitive HSI and a comms centre/FMS panel that had some really neat features. It was certainly a step up from Avidyne's Entegra and looked like it would give Garmin's Perspective a run for its money. I flew a SmartDeck equipped SR22 out of San Jose, California during AOPA's annual Expo last year and was very impressed. Whoever fitted the system into L3's SR22 could have taught Cirrus a thing or two about putting interiors together too.

Cirrus put SmartDeck in their jet prototype, and there were rumours that the company wanted to offer Avidyne, Garmin and L3 avionics to customers. It appears that the economy and internal policies put an end to that plan and Cirrus became pretty much an exclusive Garmin customer, even taking out the SmartDeck from the jet test airframe and putting in Garmin instead.

You can imagine how well that cancellation news would have been received. L3 - has spent what must be a small fortune developing a pretty damn good integrated avionics suite, then another stack of cash getting it certificated only to find temselves without an OEM customer. Pre-cancellation it appears that someone at Cirrus ordered 75 SmartDeck systems that the company no longer needed. Dropping L3’s SmartDeck has lead to a lawsuit being filed by L3’s lawyers claiming $18.7 million for the 75 systems and another $3m that is owed for Stormscopes and other standalone products. If mature, grown up companies take that kind of action then you can be pretty sure that the commercial relationship is pretty well non-existent. The court papers are effectively setting the fire that will burn the bridges, which is interesting because new-build Cirrus aircraft come with an L3 Stormscope as an option (that most people take). I suppose that Cirrus could switch to Avidyne’s TWX670, but so far that doesn’t look like it's happening.

So where now for L3s SmartDeck? They could offer it as a retrofit and compete with Avidyne who are doing just that with their R9 software and Entegra 2 hardware (another impressive system by the way), or they could look for another OEM. In the piston world, any kind of volume really means doing a deal with either Cessna or Cirrus and with the Cirrus/L3 bridges close to burning and Cessna well and truly wedded to Garmin I suspect that we won’t be seeing very much of L3’s SmartDeck in the future.

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