What Will It Take To Rebuild Bendix/King?

Honeywell says it's committed to making the Bendix/King brand great once again. Here's how to do it.

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It takes years to build a successful brand, but only a few bad decisions, or in some cases a run of bad luck, to ruin one. That’s what makes the planned revitalization of the storied Bendix/King brand name so intriguing. For the past 15 years, Bendix/King has more or less been a victim of neglect as the weeds were allowed to grow up all around it. In short, the brand suffered from the sort of parental abandonment that would have done in lesser names.

But with a massive installed base of customers who still love their old “bulletproof” Bendix/King radios, far from dying a slow death, the Bendix/King brand instead has merely entered a prolonged state of suspended animation. As competitors like Garmin, Avidyne and Aspen Avionics moved swiftly to create products that leveraged GPS and glass display technology, Bendix/King turned out one lackluster box after another while its parent company, Honeywell, focused its attention on the lucrative business jet market with the Primus Epic avionics platform. Sales suffered, but the brand lived on.

After recent market research showed that the Bendix/King name still has value – probably more value than Honeywell’s top executives realized – the decision was made to provide the resources in terms of money and personnel that will be needed to make the brand great once more. On paper, this is exciting news. Still, facing the cold realities of the current general aviation avionics market, making a comeback will be tough – maybe a lot tougher than Honeywell realizes.

If, for example, Honeywell believes it can turn out a line of “me too” products that compete head-to-head with what Garmin and Avidyne are already producing, but which don’t offer any new innovations, the plan is doomed to failure before it has even begun. Especially in the case of Garmin, here’s a company that not only is a great brand, it also has a fantastic product portfolio that just keeps getting better – and, by the way, when it comes to reliability, boxes that say Garmin on them are about as bulletproof as they come.

Yesterday at the AEA Convention I spoke with Kevin Gould, the former president of Piper Aircraft who has been handpicked to lead the Bendix/King resurgence. My sense is he gets all of this. Of the several avionics industry veterans I talked with, all of them said the same things: “Kevin’s a smart guy, and if anybody can get it done, he can.”

It appears the first order of business for the new Bendix/King is to get out of Dodge. Or, rather, to get out of Olathe, Kansas, where Bendix/King has been based going back to the old King Radio days. At first glance, the move might look like just another aviation company turning its back on Kansas. On further inspection, Bendix/King needs some breathing space away from its arch nemesis Garmin, based just up the road in Olathe. To be successful, Bendix/King has to get out from under the shadow of its biggest competitor. But where to go?

Nothing firm has been announced, but the site for the new Bendix/King that is mentioned most often is Albuquerque, New Mexico. For those of you who follow the twists and turns of the avionics industry, you know that Albuquerque is also the home of Aspen Avionics. You probably also know that Aspen and Bendix/King have a close relationship. Many Aspen engineers and executives are former Honeywell employees. Aspen does development work for Bendix/King. The two companies even exhibit together at trade shows like Sun ‘n Fun and Oshkosh.

Saying anything further about what such a move might mean for the future of both avionics companies would be pure speculation at this point. One thing that can be said for certain, however, is that once Bendix/King starts introducing new products to the GA market, they will need to be more innovative and better thought out than what’s currently being produced by Garmin, Avidyne, Aspen or anybody else. Bendix/King needs to be able to grab consumers by the shirt, shake the living daylights out of them them and say, "Look at me!" You can only do that with great products.

If the reinvigorated Bendix/King can indeed create the kind of amazing products engineers at the company no doubt can produce, watch out. Bendix/King could once again rise to become aviation’s gold standard. And that would be good news for all of us.