Bidding Farewell to the Garmin GNS Line

Production of the most popular avionics line ever is coming to an end. But, for a number of reasons, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

None of the pilots I’ve talked to were surprised by Garmin’s decision to discontinue production of its ubiquitous GNS 530W and GNS 430W all-in-one GPS/navcoms (production of the 530 ends this month and the 430 sometime next year). Really, who could be? These hugely successful units have been in production for well over a decade. Could you imagine Apple selling the same iPhone for more than 10 years? Or even two years?

That's not to say people won't miss the GNS 430 and 530, more than 100,000 of which have been produced going back to their introductions in 1998. But I haven't sensed pilots are getting teary eyed over the passing of these products, either. I chalk this up to the excitement surrounding Garmin's touchscreen GTN navigators that are replacing the GNS line. These new units can do everything your old 430 could and a whole lot more.

And, of course, customers aren’t overly worried about Garmin discontinuing the GNS 430 and 530 because they know the folks in Olathe will continue supporting these units for many years to come. You don’t become number one in product support by pulling the rug out from underneath your customers.

Still, I wondered about WAAS upgrades for the 430 and 530. A huge number of these boxes could be upgraded to WAAS standards but haven’t yet. Presumably, owners of non-WAAS GNS units can’t see the justification for the upgrade, both the expense and the downtime involved in sending the unit out for modifications.

I asked Bill Stone, Garmin’s avionics product manager, about this and – no surprise – he said Garmin will continue to support WAAS upgrades for the 430 and 530 for the predictable future. And, in fact, it turns out the future is more predictable than many know: As part of the FAA’s ADS-B mandate in 2020, aircraft will be required to carry an approved position source. A WAAS-capable GNS 430W or 530W is an approved source, but a straight GNS 430 or 530 is not. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that,” Stone said.

He also warned that the crunch on needed installation work leading up to the ADS-B mandate will probably overwhelm avionics manufacturers and shops. “There are 230,000 general aviation aircraft that will need ADS-B upgrades in the next nine years. That’s 25,000 aircraft per year, assuming people start upgrading now, which they won’t. They’ll wait as long as they can. If suddenly we have 100,000 aircraft per year to upgrade, that’s pretty much an impossible situation.”

So, yes, you can hold onto your old 430 or 530 for many years to come. But you might want to schedule that WAAS upgrade sooner than later.