WSI Reboots Pilotbrief with zippy features

 - May 29, 2011, 8:05 AM

On May 3, Weather Services International announced the launch of a new version of its online Pilotbrief weather information service, Pilotbrief Optima. WSI’s Pilotbrief Optima is a relaunch of the Pilotbrief brand, according to Paul Devlin, WSI’s aviation decision support product manager.

The main Pilotbrief home page offers a bonus for any pilot: free access to six weather charts and current conditions at a selectable airport (including Metars and Tafs). The free home page charts include radar summary, national satellite, temperature map, 700 MB winds/temps aloft, surface analysis and surface depiction, all for the continental U.S. More weather information is available for free by registering with WSI.

Where Pilotbrief Optima shines is with the full $39-per-month service for the continental U.S. (packages are available for coverage in the rest of the world). Paying subscribers have access to Optima’s full features, which begin with an interactive map of the coverage area. Pilotbrief used to make users look at each map and figure out how the weather affected the planned flight; Pilotbrief Optima is route-based, so the user can quickly see the relationship of the weather to the planned route and without looking at a whole array of different weather charts. Fields at the top of the page allow the user to input a route and an alternate airport. Once the user selects the airports, he can choose from a list of ATC routing between the airports or just select direct routing.

The route is just one of multiple layers that can be displayed on the map, each one depicting a weather product or airspace features. The user can move layers so that, for example, the route is depicted on top of all other layers. Sliders on each layer allow the user to adjust the opacity of each product so, for example, the HD Echo Tops layer is more prominent than the Metars layer. Adding a layer is simply a matter of selecting from a drop-down list. Any layer is easily deleted with a click on that layer’s “X” symbol. “There is a lot you can do to tease out information based on the particular situation you might be dealing with,” Devlin said. “We have all these layers and the map is extremely zippy.”

The map itself comes in three flavors: white, black or regional detail. There are currently 23 layers available, but more will be added later, according to Devlin. Airspace layers include TFRs, airways, navaids and more. The weather layers feature a number of specialized WSI products such as HD radar, HD vertically integrated liquid, WSI FPGs (forecasts from WSI’s forecast group) and SatRad, which uses satellite information to paint a radar-like picture in areas without radar coverage, such as in the tropics. The layers displayed during the last session remain on the map when the user logs in to a new session. Users can personalize Optima with saved routes, home airport and other customizable settings.

The text viewer provides detailed information for one or multiple locations and with selectable data types (Metars, Tafs, Notams and so on). Metars and Tafs can be decoded into plain English.

Of course, all of WSI’s regular charts are available through Pilotbrief Optima, but after viewing the route-based map with the overlaid weather, it seems as though more charts would be superfluous. Upgrades to Pilotbrief Optima are due in September and November and should include more convective-type charts and icing as well, according to Devlin.

For Apple iPad users who subscribe to Pilotbrief Optima, a free iPad app will be available soon, with access to much of the Optima content. The iPad app won’t include all of the layers, however, because of differences between the software used to drive Optima’s online version and the iPad’s software. After the iPad app is released, WSI plans to make Pilotbrief Optima available for FBOs, first in an online version accessible from any web browser then followed by a hardware kiosk.