On Tuesday 24 October, Century Avionics staged a presentation for Romain Spadiny (Garmin Europe) who provided an informative and well-presented show on the different functions and capabilities that the new TXi series has to offer.
Century Avionics celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, 2023. The company has been based at Lanseria Airport since being established in 1978.
They have a branch at Maun Airport in Botswana and a technical office at Wonderboom Airport; they regularly travel to Marondera and Harare, Zimbabwe and have a vision to keep the company growing steadily.
Century Avionics’ owners have been with the company for 74 years in total – 25 years for Morné Cilliers, 25 years for Marc Robinson and 24 years for Carin van Zyl. The company employs a team of 39 people, of which 19 team members have over 10 years of service, the longest service to the company being 28 years!
Their facilities at Lanseria Airport are situated on the northern side, ideally located just through Gate 5, in Hangar M1, M2 and M3.
Marc and Morné took the opportunity to answer a couple of questions from Guy Leitch –
GL: Congratulations on completing 25 years of service, Marc and Morné. You are also celebrating Century Avionics’ 45th anniversary this year. Despite the challenges of the aviation market, you have really put the company on the map. What are your strengths and the values that have enabled you to lead so successfully?
MC: One may look back on the road we have travelled to get where we are today and consider strengths, values and leadership, but in the end, it is the Grace of the Lord and the people in the company who drives and strives for success. Our values have always been to recognise customers’ valuable time, requirements and desired outcomes to help us understand and work towards the desired end product. Everyone who is part of the team at Century Avionics has specific functions to perform and contribute to the ongoing success, not only the years we have been in existence and the previous owners who played their part in the success of the company, but to consciously promote and advertise Century Avionics at every possible opportunity. We are blessed to have a strong team at Century Avionics, a team who cares.
MR: An experienced and willing workforce contributes boundlessly. Steadfast support from OEMs, Manufacturers, our local Industry and operators (client companies) right through to private aircraft owners. Doing your utmost to remain focused, calm and collected during challenging and stressful times has stood us in good stead.
GL: Avionics is an incredibly rapidly developing field. Yet you have always been the first to learn new technology to demonstrate it to potential buyers. Does this come naturally – or do you have to put in
long hours of learning and practice?
MC: We are eager to learn what is new and why the product was designed, which helps to understand the functions and operations the equipment was intended for. When we started at Century Avionics – then avionics were basic and mechanical or analogue compared to what Avionics entails today. The equipment available on the market today, mandated requirements, and design potential has so developed that avionics has become fully integrated and, if we dare say so, exciting! Long hours of research – certainly, a first on many systems and equipment – yes, but definitely rewarding, fuelling our analysing inquisitive engineering minds!
MR: The development of avionics technology is indeed rapid. It is no easy task keeping abreast with technology, development, mandates, bulletins, procedures and the like! Staying informed about the latest technology and trends requires continuous learning. It is exciting, challenging and daunting all at the same time. Is there even a word for that?
GL: For many ageing aircraft, avionics has become the single largest item of capital expenditure. Do your clients find the investment pays of? In improved safety and situational awareness – and in the value and saleability of the aircraft?
MC: It’s important for aircraft owners to carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of avionics upgrades, considering factors such as the aircraft's overall condition, planned usage, and budget. We understand that when a customer has either a wish list or a necessity to upgrade avionics, a mandate to comply with, Century Avionics is called upon to assist with guidance and recommendations. We aid the customer in making the best possible decision for the investment, finding the balance between functional requirement, safety considerations and budget. Conducting a cost-benefit analysis and consulting with avionics specialists can help determine the potential return on investment and the
overall value of upgrading the avionics systems in ageing aircraft. We also realise that the aviation market has various cycles through which it exists. We believe for many reasons that there is merit in the refurbishment of an older model aircraft – modernised to the equivalent or competing new model – and that at a very competitive price.
MR: Safety and peace of mind when getting behind your aircraft controls should be front of mind at all times. Responsible and safe flying practices, along with investments in safety-enhancing measures, are crucial. No investment in safety is wasted. In an industry where over-capitalizing could become problematic as a result of mandates to comply with, the saleability of a fully compliant aircraft is enhanced. Aviation professionals recognize the importance of adapting to change and embracing advancements that improve safety. Striking a balance between safety, operational efficiency, and cost considerations is essential, and prudent investments in safety will contribute to a more secure and sustainable aviation industry.
GL: You have been a very strong and much-appreciated supporter of the recreational side of general aviation in South Africa. You often give up your weekends to travel to airshows. This seems to have worked well for you. Do people who build little planes go on to buy big planes with expensive avionics upgrades?
MC: The enthusiasm of the employees attending these shows is contagious, and they are attended in the spirit of giving back to the industry that supports our business throughout the year. Thereby, in turn, expanding our business by reminding aviators of our service and support, all whilst enjoying what we do. It slices both ways – we have Business jet owners flying LS1 category aircraft for leisurely family time and Sport category aircraft owners who go on to own King Airs and PC-12s.
MR: We have an enormous passion for people and their planes. The aviation ‘family’ we have come to know over the past few years is the most resourceful and successful individuals from all angles of life! Our unwavering interest and support have earned us a good standing in the industry.
GL: Tell us about Century Avionics – what is your reach? – do you support aircraft across Africa?
MC: We go where we are needed. We see potential north of our country’s borders and endeavour to provide our service where it is required. Considering that logistics aren’t always easy, it makes for interesting travels. Visiting the harder-to-reach places in Africa carries our name further, helping to expand our footprint.
MR: Do we support aircraft across Africa… oh yes! If we could travel more, we would! Our continent has the most interesting landscape and the most diverse cultures you could ever experience on one continent! And one finds pretty interesting aircraft too!
GL: What is your experience of the present state of the industry? Are aircraft owners spending money – or sitting on their hands waiting for the economy to improve?
MC: We still see a lot of movement where owners spend money to improve the avionics in their aircraft. I believe South Africans and people in the Aviation industry make things happen; if people see the correct opportunities and the possibilities of how to navigate through these difficult times, then my previous statement has some truth where older aircraft is being modernised and sold for a profit, especially to Europe and the USA.
MR: Although the present state of the aviation industry has its challenges, particularly affecting commercial airlines, there has been some improvement in the general aviation avionics landscape. The current state of the economy is impacting the country, not only aviation. Regulatory mandates and considerations, rising fuel and maintenance costs etc., impact decision-making. The post-COVID effects have also impacted the manufacturing sector, leading to delays in finished goods and parts. Additionally, part obsolescence due to aged electronics and practices adds to the challenges. While money is still being spent, spending patterns have changed, reflecting the evolving times.
GL: Does the weak Rand and exchange rate volatility make it difficult? – if you quote a client, and then the job turns out to cost 33% more?
MC: I think it does, and the difficulties don’t necessarily stop with the exchange rate alone, but ultimately I believe what softens these blows are that everybody has the same predicament, and all of us have to navigate the best possible way forward.
MR: Yes, the weak Rand and exchange rate volatility can indeed make business challenging. More regular than annual price list amendments from manufacturers and suppliers play a contributing role. The increased freight and courier fees, along with longer delivery times for finished goods, add to the difficulties. Despite these challenges, it’s important to adapt to the changing landscape and find ways to accommodate the expectations of aircraft owners while managing obstacles.
GL: You are located inside Lanseria Airport and the problems the airport management has had with air gates and access control are well known. Has this made your business significantly more difficult?
MC/MR: While the problems with air gates and access control at Lanseria Airport may have caused inconvenience for some businesses, the overall impact on our business has been mitigated by measures we have in place to alleviate a somewhat cumbersome procedure and working with Lanseria Management to improve the experience of visiting Lanseria Airport. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a decline in visitors at all Airports, but it also brought about a shift in consumer behaviour towards online shopping and delivery. We have seen a significant increase in our digital presence, website interest, and online sales. We welcome customers who prefer the traditional approach of physically interacting with the company and products before making a purchase. Good communication and a working relationship with Lanseria Management make access to our premises fairly convenient. And a sincere smile helps!