Seattle Avionics adds e-charts for EU

 - October 1, 2010, 6:54 AM

Pilots who want an alternative source of electronic chart data for flying outside the U.S. can now buy ChartData from Seattle Avionics Software for European Union countries. The EU ChartData is available for hardware manufacturers that want to make the data available for their customers. Honeywell’s Bendix/King AV8OR Ace handheld GPS is one of the first to offer the EU ChartData. Seattle Avionics is working with Apple iPad software developers that plan to release the EU ChartData on those devices. On the AV8OR Ace, the EU ChartData costs $799 per year, roughly a quarter of the cost of a Jeppesen subscription for the same area, according to Seattle Avionics president John Rutter.

Many Seattle Avionics customers access the company’s digital data via its Voyager flight-planning software, and others by buying it for devices such as the AV8OR, Aspen Avionics panel-mount display, iPad or Seattle Avionics’s own SkyPad EFB. The EU ChartData is not yet offered on Seattle Avionics’s Voyager flight-planning software but should be available by year-end. Seattle Avionics doesn’t supply VFR charts for the EU subscriptions, but they are coming soon, too, according to Rutter.
The EU ChartData includes georeferenced IFR approach plates, SIDs/Stars, airport diagrams and HI/LO IFR en route charts.

Seattle Avionics has been working on creating electronic versions of VFR and IFR chart data for all over the world for many years, Rutter said. “The goal in the next 18 months is to get all the charts and plates and airport diagrams for all the countries in the world.”

Creating digital charts is an exacting and demanding task, however. For each country, Seattle Avionics has to sign a contract with the governing body that controls the charting system, not only to buy the data but also for permission to resell it. The data itself comes in a huge variety of formats, from paper that Seattle Avionics technicians have to scan to scanned charts in PDF format to a mishmash of electronic formats. “There is great variability in the technological shape that countries are in,” he said, “and a wide variety of different formats.”

At headquarters in Woodinville, Wash., Seattle Avionics has five busy computer servers running 24/7 processing chart data and getting it ready for the next 28-day update cycle. When data arrives, technicians need to perform some manual steps, then the computer takes over using automated software created by Seattle Avionics. Technicians need to step in again, followed by more software manipulation to prepare the charts for shipping to customers.

Part of the complexity of creating digital aeronautical charts is adding georeference data so that the pilot will see own-ship position on digital charts when flying with a GPS-equipped display. U.S. sectional charts come with georeference data, according to Rutter, but IFR charts do not, so Seattle Avionics has to add the georeference data.

Rutter expects to be able to cut prices for subscriptions as Seattle Avionics gets better at turning various countries’ charts into consistent data. “Over time, we believe all governments will provide charts electronically and with georeference data,” he said.