Jeppesen sees future with far less paper

 - May 1, 2011, 5:30 AM

Electronic flight bags and newer devices like the Apple 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 Rick Ellerbrock, Jeppesen’s chief strategist for aviation, “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.”

Jeppesen is not just turning paper charts into digital files, he explained. The move to digital capabilities will include 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 better awareness of weather so they can make intelligent reroute decisions much earlier, instead of drastic last-minute avoidance maneuvers.

“It goes beyond the traditional flight-case information,” Ellerbrock said. “We’re talking about real-time integration with the flight department, connected with and communicating to the cockpit, and 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.”

Paper remains popular and won’t disappear from Jeppesen’s product mix anytime soon. Jeppesen does print 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.”

In the tablet computer arena, Jeppesen is continuing development of its Mobile TC iPad app, which currently displays worldwide approach charts. This year the company will add en route charts to the iPad, according to Ellerbrock. Jeppesen is also working on applications for Android-based devices.

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.

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 iPad2. 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 toward 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 for now the testing still needs to be done airplane by airplane. o