Paper giving way to digital chart data

 - May 16, 2011, 9:40 PM

Evidence that Jeppesen is moving rapidly toward a world cluttered with less paper can be seen in airline terminals all over the world. Many airline pilots have been freed of the burden of dragging around their own bulging chart cases full of approach plates and en route charts and regulations, thanks to Jeppesen’s Airside service, which facilitates the delivery of charts to aircraft instead of to pilots. At the other extreme are pilots who are not using paper approach plates at all, but pulling up Jepp charts on electronic devices in cockpits, from electronic flight bags (EFBs) and now to Apple iPads, which the U.S. FAA has approved for in-flight duty.

While Jeppesen hopes eventually to eliminate printing of paper documents, most airlines still use paper, and the transition to electronic charts will take longer. Hence, said Rick Ellerbrock, Jeppesen’s chief strategist for aviation, Airside Services remains “part of the paper-to-less-paper-to-electronic transformation.”

Here at EBACE, Jeppesen (Stand 1339) is focusing on how its technology can help business aviation customers–from the company’s flight and trip planning services to delivery of more chart products online and via devices like the iPad using Jeppesen’s Mobile TC app. Currently, Mobile TC provides viewing of Jeppesen’s worldwide approach chart database, and this year the company will add en route charts to the iPad, according to Ellerbrock.

As part of the move to displaying en route charts, Jeppesen plans to make both approach plates and en route charts geo-referenced, which means that the iPad will be able to show own-ship position of the aircraft in which the iPad is being used. This requires a 3G iPad with the built-in GPS or coupling of an external GPS to the iPad, which usually works better in aircraft with heated windshields.

The Jeppesen Mobile TC iPad app simplifies the transition to electronic documents with innovative ergonomic design features that make using the iPad almost transparent for pilots. Approach charts fill the screen and are easily readable, but pilots can zoom in or out with the standard iPad pinch movement. Details on the charts remain sharp at high zoom levels because Jeppesen’s graphics are all vector-based, which enables graphical elements to be sharp at any size.

When viewing an approach chart for a particular runway at an airport, a “scrubber” feature at the bottom of the page allows the user to switch to a different approach chart at that airport. Moving the scrubber left or right instantly pulls up the next or previous chart in sequence. Pilots can select airports as favorites for faster recall, but finding any chart is as simple as typing in the airport’s code in the search box.

For operators seeking regulatory approval to use iPads in the cockpit, Jeppesen is assisting with rapid decompression test data, which is available for both the original iPad and the iPad 2. Jeppesen can either provide the data directly to the regulators or allow the operator to include the data in a package requested by the regulator, according to Ellerbrock. “We’re partnering with our customers, finding out their needs and the most efficient way to help the process.” Jeppesen is also assisting by creating training materials that operators can incorporate, “which helps refine and speed up the process towards authorization,” he said.

Jeppesen does not recommend testing every iPad under rapid decompression conditions, however, because the test subjects the unit to environmental pressures that are not typical, according to Ellerbrock. “The best practice is to do the rapid decompression test on a representative unit, and that covers the entire class of that unit. You don’t know if you compromised the components by subjecting it to the test. We do a class representative test and pull that unit out of circulation and put it in the archives so it can be looked at.”

Operators will also have to conduct interference testing, but that will have to be done with the aircraft flown by that operator. Jeppesen is working on an industry standard checklist for this testing to make the process easier, but the testing still needs to be done on an airplane-by-airplane basis.

Electronic flight bags and newer devices like the iPad and Android-based tablets are part of what is driving Jeppesen to more electronic distribution of its charting products, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. “Our general strategy is that we are facilitating and encouraging the move to a digital content world,” said Ellerbrock, “not just for charts but all the elements pilots deal with on an airplane. Once we’re in the digital world, we can integrate between functions in ways that weren’t possible.” This will include, he explained, better information management, decision-making and awareness, and making flight more cost-effective. One example will be real-time Notam activity as it affects the flight route. Another is giving pilots a better awareness of weather so they can make intelligent reroute decisions much earlier, instead of making drastic last-minute maneuvers.

“It goes beyond the traditional flight case information,” he said. “We’re talking about real-time integration with the flight department, connected with and communicating to the cockpit. In the commercial market we’re looking at crew and fleet management and disruption management and recovery. And there is an aspect of what we’re doing that involves interfaces with other systems on the airplane. You’re going to see capabilities that are unique.”

Paper remains popular and won’t disappear soon from Jeppesen’s product mix. However, Jeppesen prints far fewer sheets of paper now, from a peak of 2.5 billion per year five years ago to about one billion today. “When we look on the horizon,” said Ellerbrock, “as aggressive as digital [is moving], we still see paper. There will always be users who want paper; it’s a great solution, and we will support it as long as there’s a market for it.”