NBAA Convention News

Aviation apps find a calling on the iPhone

 - October 22, 2009, 7:36 AM

Sure, you can use an Apple iPhone to make calls, but as devotees of the ubiquitous device know, there’s so much more to Steve Jobs’ wonder product than the phone itself.

A big part of the appeal of the iPhone, of course, is Apple’s App Store, where users can browse a mindnumbing array of applications (more than 75,000 at last count) created specifically for the device.

NBAA Convention News set out yesterday afternoon to find out from iPhone users in the exhibit hall which aviation-specific apps they like best. As it turned out, a lot of attendees were talking on cellphones and typing on BlackBerrys, but hardly any of them were using iPhones–perhaps because many corporate IT departments forbid their use, citing security risks. Some iPhone users told us they had no aviation apps on their devices because they weren’t pilots. But with a little persistence we were able to track down aviation types using their iPhones and get some answers.

Billy Derbyshire, chief pilot for Avitat Boca Raton in South Florida, showed us the apps on his phone that he says he uses most. There was AeroWeather, a free application that provides Metar and TAF reports for any airport where reporting is available.

“This is a great one he said, tapping on the phone’s screen as he demonstrated how the application works. Derbyshire said he also uses an app from Fltplan.com to look up airport information. “Mostly phone numbers.

I wish they’d come out with an app that would actually let me do flight planning.” Derbyshire flies a Falcon 50 domestically and said he uses the Fltplan.com Web site on his PC for all of his flight planning needs.

Geoff Green, a Falcon 900 captain, said he uses AeroWeather, AOPA’s Airports Directory, the electronic logbook app LogTen and LiveATC (which lets him listen to ATC broadcasts at airports around the world). “That one’s just for fun,” he said.

Another corporate pilot told us his list of aviation apps includes AeroWeather, AOPA Airports, Checklist, two flight tracking apps–Flight Track and FlightAware–and LiveATC. “I probably don’t have many compared to some folks,” he said.

That’s probably true. There are hundreds of aviation-related apps on the App Store, many of them free and designed for private pilots while others are for serious aviators and cost upward of $100. The highest rated aviation application we found on the App Store was ForeFlight Mobile’s $74.99 “pre-flight intelligence suite,” a comprehensive resource that includes weather information, approach charts, airport diagrams, information on more than 9,000 FBOs and an airport-facility directory listing more than 27,000 airports in 220 countries. And it’ll let you create and file a flight plan.

We also ran into James Spadaro and Sterling Brandt, the founders of a San Francisco company called FlightApps that provides application and IT services specifically for flight departments that use iPhones to run aviation software. But rather than just create apps for the iPhone, the company allows iPhone users to connect to its remote servers for access to software than normally must be run on a PC.

One of the latest from Flight-Apps is the Flight Operations System flight ops software from Computing Technologies for Aviation based in Charlottesville, Va., which many corporate flight department pilots and dispatchers rely on.

“I was actually reluctant to buy an iPhone at first,” said Sparado, who is the company’s president and CEO. “But it has been the most productive thing I have done with technology.” He said the iPhone’s interface is far superior to other smart phones for running hosted software. Oneyear- old FlightApps has 22 business aviation customers, he said, all of them corporate flight departments or Part 135 commercial operators.