Air Support enhances its preflight software

 - May 17, 2008, 5:39 AM

Air Support is unveiling the latest new features of its Preflight Planning System (PPS) here at EBACE this week (Booth No. 722). The Danish software house is progressively extending the scope of the flight-planning program to encompass more real-time data, while boosting its value as an operations management tool that gives users a better grasp of their direct operating costs.

Clients can receive significant weather charts and wind charts with key features clearly color-coded and overlaid with air traffic control routings. Air Support’s software development team has devised a way to generate the user-friendly charts from weather data downloaded as binary code, giving pilots at-a-glance significant weather readings pegged to their takeoff and landing times. The new standard feature is available at no extra charge.

Another new PPS feature in the works is Graphical Weather Watch, which will provide flight crews with a graphical presentation of airport weather status via the program’s Internet-based CrewBriefing service. Graphical Weather Watch provides downloaded maps showing the weather status of the planned arrival airport, as well as alternates, on a specific flight plan or for multiple flights associated with a specific crewmember. The charts will color-code weather conditions so that airports marked in green are good, those in yellow are acceptable and those in red are at or below minimum operating standards.

Air Support is also working with satellite communications specialist Satcom1 (Booth No. 915) to devise a way to deliver updated weather for crews on long flights via the aircraft’s onboard broadband Internet connection. Pilots would be able to log onto CrewBriefing using a less data-heavy simplified mode to receive a predefined block of weather in the region to which they are flying, as well as Notams.

Air Support is also preparing a system that will track an aircraft’s specific location in real time based on its departure time, performance and en route wind data. Operators would pay only for the time they are connected to the Satcom1 Internet service, making it a cost-effective alternative to more expensive real-time weather services. This feature will likely be available by year-end.

Before then, probably by mid-summer, Air Support expects to offer a service through which pilots can upload flight plans from CrewBriefing folders via Air Support’s server to Honeywell’s Global Data Center and then relayed directly to an aircraft’s flight management system. This would avoid the need for pilots to have to enter waypoints and wind data into their aircraft’s flight management system (FMS) manually. Air Support wants to extend this option to other brands of FMS, starting with Universal Avionics’ UVAirLink system. Each FMS requires the data in a different format.

PPS has evolved over close to two decades and was devised mainly to meet the flight planning needs of business and private aircraft operators. But the system is becoming more and more sophisticated and its cost management tools now make it increasingly suitable for commercial operations, including new-generation very light jet air taxi services as well as for airlines. For these types of operators, PPS can be enhanced to cover automatic data import from flight scheduling, crew planning and load management systems.

Over the past couple of years, Air Support has noticed that commercial operators of business aircraft are much more eager to use flight planning to make their flights as cost effective as possible, taking into account factors such as overflight enroute airway charges, wind speeds and direction, and temperature forecasts. “Today with PPS, a [Cessna] Citation Excel operator who flies from Manchester to Frankfurt can typically save ?50 to ?100 on one flight, all depending on these factors,” explained sales and marketing director Jens Pisarski. “If you fly ten legs a day these savings are significant on a yearly basis for a business aviation operator.”

Different Approach to Flight Planning
The software design and system architecture for PPS is fundamentally different from most other flight planning systems in that it is not run via a centralized database, but rather allows operators to run it autonomously on their own computers. Most flight-planning systems are based on a city-pair routing structure, which is maintained by the provider who keeps it up to date on large mainframe computers. Clients then connect their local software application typically via the Internet to retrieve a flight-plan routing stored on the mainframe.

With PPS, all the key navigation and aircraft performance data resides on the client’s workstations and, according to Air Support, they are better able to generate air traffic control routings that take into account the entire airways structure and all the air traffic management rules that apply. The PPS software automatically connects to the Internet to update the necessary data from Air Support’s servers. This approach is well suited to Europe, where the rules and conditions governing ATC routings are particularly complex.

Advances in computer processing power mean that PPS can generate completely new ATC routings in just five to 10 seconds. Flight plans can be stored in the PPS database for future use.

The decentralized structure has allowed Air Support to add navigation databases on top of the global Lufthansa Lido system, which is the standard database for PPS. For example, the company has added Eurocontrol’s route availability restrictions that give all relevant flow-control routing segments applicable to specific routings and flight levels.

“The client can verify their stored routings automatically by running an update routine on the system, after which it will make a list of changes done,” explained Pisarski. “If the pilot forgets, the PPS will update a stored route in connection with any dispatch process. This way PPS will never be limited [in terms of the data available], no matter which restriction types the airspace authorities and users throw at us, as we can just add the data.”

The pricing formula for PPS is also different. Other flight-planning services are generally subject to a monthly fee for each aircraft using the system, and often charges for each flight plan prepared. PPS is sold for a one-time software fee, which means PPS operating costs do not rise proportionately as a fleet grows, so the more a customer’s aircraft fly, the cheaper each flight plan is.

Operators unsure about whether they will have a long-term need for PPS can opt to rent the system for a year at a time. For more than five years, it is cheaper to purchase the system.