E-chart software glitch plagued Jepp

 - May 22, 2008, 7:23 AM

Aeronautical chart provider Jeppesen is experiencing first hand some of the angst that can accompany a business’s transition to the brave new world of digital product and service marketing. In Jepp’s case problems arose from glitches with its FliteDeck electronic approach chart software, a recent version of which wreaked serious havoc by locking up users’ computers. The situation was exacerbated when customers called Jeppesen’s toll-free technical support line only to be put on hold for long periods, given answers that many said were unacceptable or, in a few instances, virtually ignored by the company.

The conflict came to a boiling point in late October when pilots, increasingly unhappy with their experiences with Jeppesen, began bashing the Englewood, Colo. company on an Internet user group sponsored by NBAA. In addition to issuing a barrage of barbs over specific problems with the FliteDeck software, pilots chimed in to express their recent displeasure with Jeppesen overall. Several agreed that the level of service they experienced, while once exemplary, had declined steadily since Boeing bought Jeppesen last fall.

With a handful of the writers in the cyber group summing up their complaints by stating they would not use Jeppesen products or services in the future, and in the face of a continuing onslaught of online criticism, Jeppesen issued a contrite statement on November 1, telling customers, “We readily admit that our service levels have been lacking. Through the last 12 months we have worked diligently to improve the customer experience with our company throughout all market segments. We also admit that we are ‘not there yet,’ and appreciate the comments being generated about our service levels. We need your assistance with constructive suggestions and feedback to continue to improve upon our service levels.”

Diane Murphy, manager of general and business aviation products at Jeppesen, told AIN that customers have experienced some problems with Jeppesen software in the last year, most recently with Update CD-ROM Disk 22 of the FliteDeck subscription service, which could not be loaded onto users’ computers without freezing their machines.

One corporate pilot tried loading the software on his Northstar CT-1000 handheld flight computer, which he had planned to use in the cockpit during an upcoming trip. After the software locked up his handheld PC, the pilot tried to load the software onto his desktop PC, a Dell Inspiron, so that he could at least print out the needed charts. After the software froze his desktop PC, the pilot said he called Jeppesen and was told by a technical support representative that he would receive a call back soon.

The pilot said he finally decided to call Jeppesen tech support again after waiting 24 hr for a response. Their answer, he told user-group members, was that Jeppesen said it was aware of the “fatal problem” with FlightDeck but did not have a fix and did not know how long it would take to develop one.

He advised the representative on the telephone that in the meantime he was grounded and needed to have paper charts or a fix for FlightDeck immediately. The pilot said he was flabbergasted when the Jeppesen representative then offered to sell him the paper charts for $2,300 while technicians worked to resolve the software problem.

Murphy blamed this pilot’s experience on the representative with whom he spoke, saying the rep was not properly trained on what to do when such a circumstance arises. The proper course of action, she said, is to issue a temporary “trip kit” containing all the paper charts a crew will need until a software fix can be developed. Such a kit can be faxed to the customer so as not to delay flights.

“We handled it very poorly in this case,” she said, adding that the problem has since been rectified with this specific customer. “We have instituted changes to reeducate and reinforce proper procedures with our employees anytime a flight-critical situation arises with a customer.”

Where the root problem exists, said Murphy, is in the digital delivery of products and services, something with which Jeppesen is still struggling. Anytime there is a software glitch it causes headaches for flight crews, who must ascertain whether it is a hardware or software problem. Often this has proved to be a time-consuming and frustrating process, Murphy admitted.

With some crews removing paper charts from the cockpit in favor of electronic chart revisions for use with cockpit handheld PCs, it is doubly important that the software is not corrupt, said Murphy. In those instances where there is a problem with the software, she said, Jeppesen needs to do a better job of addressing its customers’ needs. Following the most recent software problems, she said, Jeppesen representatives contacted many customers by telephone not only to apologize for the situation but also to gain feedback.