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Aspen Avionics taking wing

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A steady ascent over eight years has taken Aspen Avionics into the Flying 40’s high tech top 10 for revenues.

And despite the economy’s struggles, it also sits atop this year’s category of highest percentage revenue growth the past four years for companies earning more than $10 million.

Founded in 2004, Aspen offers advanced avionics systems that can be retrofitted to more than 900 makes and models of general aviation aircraft. It reached $7 million in revenues by the end of 2008 before “plateauing” at just under $10 million each of the next two years.

The results in 2011 represented a milestone.

“We kind of broke through with a very strong year,” said president and CEO John Uczekaj, who attributes Aspen’s success to not only new products, but an agreement with Honeywell’s Bendix/King to help develop its KSN 770 GPS receiver/navigator.

“By a combination of those two elements, we grew our revenues to $11-plus million, which we’re really spring-boarding into 2012,” Uczekaj said. “We’re on a track to do between $15 million and $18 million this year.”

Even though the economic downturn has been severe for the industry – the worst in memory for Uczekaj – there has been an upside for Aspen: More people are opting to upgrade instead of buying new aircraft.

Aspen entered the avionics business designing and building flat-panel flight display instruments – sometimes known as glass cockpits – that can be retrofitted at affordable price to general aviation aircraft to provide critical flight information commonly found in commercial, business and other high-end aircraft. Its equipment has been FAA-certified for installation in both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. International deals, once accounting for less than five percent of its business, has grown to 27 percent.

“We came out first with the primary flight display, which tells you where the aircraft is going and its attitude in the air in the 3-D space,” said Brad Hayden, vice president of marketing. “When John is talking new products, he is talking about the displays that we’ve brought to market in addition to the primary flight displays, which have added new value to the customer panels.”

Aspen’s multi-function displays are designed to sit alongside the primary device, adding such complementary features as terrain, weather and traffic information.

“So if you’re using the primary function to fly the airplane, you’re using our multi-functions as reference for navigation and stuff like that,” Hayden said. “If the primary flight display for whatever reason fails, you can hit a rev (reversion) button and the multi-function display will actually present you with all that critical data.”

Aspen is developing the software and user interface for Bendix/King’s KSN 770, which is planned to enter the market by the end of December. Uczekaj said Honeywell approached Aspen about co-developing the project.

“We have been able to show we can bring these things to market quickly and have them certified,” he said. “We just kind of had a discussion together of how we could work together and we both came to the conclusion this is is one product we could bring to market together.”

The KSN 770 has a GPS receiver in it and the capability to enter flight plans and provide situational awareness. It also includes touch-screen technology and navigation and communication radios.

“The fact we’re working with Bendix/King on this product is a huge precedent setter,” Hayden said. “We’re actually partnering with another avionics manufacturer on an autopilot integration package. We are now known in the industry as somebody willing to go out and co-develop products for the benefit of our customers because we’re offering these more powerful solutions they can get than from any individual manufacturer.”

Uczekaj said one of Aspen’s newest projects is a line of products that will allow connectivity between iPad applications and the cockpit. The first is due out this year.

“Now, an individual with a flight plan he may do on his iPad at home can bring it into his airplane,” Uczekaj said. “We think that market, even what we think today, is only a tip of the iceberg of what people are going to come up with over the years and our equipment is going to facilitate that interface into the cockpit.”

Looking forward, Uzcekaj said he expects Aspen to continue to evolve and grow.

“We are going from a company that was, in the first few years, burning a lot of cash and not showing a lot of profit to now,” Uczekaj said. “We’re at a point where we’re right at break even and over the next couple of years, we’ll be having positive profit and producing a nice place for our investors to be.”