Business

Steve Timm on the future of avionics at Collins Aerospace

The ever-developing 'central nervous system' of aircraft keeps getting better

Steve Timm, head of avionics at Collins Aerospace, photographed in Cedar Rapids on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Steve Timm, head of avionics at Collins Aerospace, photographed in Cedar Rapids on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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For Steve Timm, becoming the leader of avionics under Collins Aerospace was a testament to what he said was the absence of a “mold” in the evolving modern aerospace business.

Growing up “without a lot of means” and graduating from a Mason City area high school among 43 classmates, Timm said he always had an interest in computers as a then-up-and-coming industry with a problem-solving component.

Though multiple Rockwell Collins leaders have emerged from its air-transport systems business — which since 2013 Timm led as vice president and general manager — he said historically their backgrounds were more centered on traditional engineering.

Timm took over for Kent Statler as president of Collins Aerospace’s avionics business unit in early May, and pointed to his information technology background in asserting that the future of aerospace is ever-changing.

That change, he said, comes with more potential opportunities — both for employees and the “innovative and creative” products they develop.

“If you’re a good leader, a collaborative leader, you create an environment where other people can be successful, and you can really pull these pieces together and lead from whatever background you might have,” he said.

“The point is, there is no formula. As we become Collins Aerospace, we have to adapt. We’re no longer just a company headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, we get the opportunity to be part of a much larger organization now, with more opportunities to better serve our customers.”

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One element of change Timm highlighted was the transition of avionics, which he described as the “central nervous system” of aircraft, to feature more of an information technology component.

This entails a new connection between traditional systems pilots and crews use, including weather radar, communication radios and displays, so data can be securely transmitted on and off aircraft before, during and after flights, Timm said.

Customers then have a “real-time awareness” of their aircraft’s performance and can save on maintenance costs by identifying issues in need of service, he said.

“It’s no longer just about the airplane, it’s operating an ecosystem that’s got ground infrastructure, air traffic control, the airline operating system . We are in a fantastic position now as part of Collins Aerospace to take those ingredients that we now have, put them together into this set of solutions that we can offer the industry and be the most capable connected ecosystem, connected aircraft provider in the market,” Timm said.

“That’s really exciting for us.”

Within his business unit, Timm said he is responsible for legacy Rockwell businesses including commercial avionics, military, business and regional avionics, as well as company information management services based in Annapolis, Md., and UTC Aerospace businesses in Burnsville, Minn., and Wilson, N.C.

In 2018, Collins Aerospace’s avionics businesses generated about $5 billion in revenue.

Despite the Rockwell acquisition, Timm emphasized the decisions made within avionics, including investments in products and commitments to customers, are not delegated, and still take place in Cedar Rapids.

He said Collins Aerospace’s rate of hiring engineers to work in Cedar Rapids has increased between 6 percent and 8 percent since 2009, and expects that trend to continue, though he noted a potential decrease in STEM graduates could pose a challenge in the future.

Timm touted the caliber of Collins Aerospace’s current workforce, adding, “We do what we say we’re going to do, we make commitments, we follow through on those commitments and it renews itself in the opportunity to win new business.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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Steve Timm

• Most recent previous leadership positions at Rockwell Collins: Vice president and general manager, air transport; vice president and general manager, flight information

• Education: Wartburg College, bachelor’s in management information systems and business; University of Iowa, MBA

• Hometown: Nora Springs

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