NBAA Convention News

Universal Weather intros mobile trip-planning feature

 - October 13, 2010, 11:00 AM

After the logistical nightmare caused by Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano earlier this year, Universal Weather and Aviation owner Greg Evans challenged his colleagues to develop a way for the company to help clients in future volcanic ash events. Product manager for weather and mobile solutions Shawn Rampy and his team took up the challenge and researched the problem, consulting with experts and studying possible practical solutions.

The result is Universal’s new volcanic ash monitoring and modeling service. The company is employing an ash forecasting tool developed by the scientific community, which “applies the latest physics to pollution and ash dispersion advection physics,” Rampy explained. “We have set it up such that we are able to run numeric simulations on any ash event at any point on the globe and for any time periods or durations.”

Volcanic ash forecasting is part of the regular trip-planning services offered by Universal. “We wanted to get this piece of it out there now,” he said. “There is heightened sensitivity because of the events of last spring, and we understand the pain these types of events cause.”

In his research on volcanic ash events, Rampy found that the nine volcanic ash advisory centers offer only 18-hour forecasts of ash movement and that there is a surprising amount of volcanic activity around the world. The forecasting tool allows Universal forecasters to look days into the future instead of hours, by modeling ash physics and weather and wind forecasts to see how an ash event will affect customer trips. “We’re looking at this information and proactively contacting clients,” Rampy said.

Mobile Access
At Universal’s NBAA booth (No. 3927), visitors can learn more about the new volcanic ash forecasting service and try Universal’s newest development–access to online trip status information from any mobile device. Universal is also giving free copies of the print version of the UVTripPlanner to attendees.

Trip status is one of the primary ways that Universal customers interact with the company and it has been available online for a while. But so many pilots are using mobile devices that Universal felt it was important to meet the demand for access to Universal services on the mobile Internet. “This offering will replicate the full functionality of our existing online desktop trip status experience,” said Rampy.

“We’re presenting the same tools in a format that they can access 24/7/365 instead of that small time that we spend in front of our computers.…We’re committed to be the leader for providing tools for clients where they are, whenever they are, when they need it and also whichever device.”

Web-based Apps
The way Universal is making its tools accessible on mobile devices is different from what has been typical. Most companies are developing applications or software that runs on specific devices: for example, apps on Apple’s App Store for the iPhone and iPad, or Android apps for smartphones (and soon tablet computers) that run Google’s mobile operating system. BlackBerrys have their own App World, and there are others like the upcoming Windows Phone 7 operating system and Symbian used in Nokia phones. Writing an app for each device is expensive and time-consuming.

By making its tools available on the devices’ Web browsers, Universal avoids the hassle of device-specific app development and will have an easier time updating its offerings.  “The strategy for us is to present a comprehensive and all-inclusive offering. This will take advantage of the unique conventions on each device, with the same look and feel clients are comfortable with in each mobile operating system,” said Rampy.

The next tool that Universal plans to add to its mobile offerings is its UVTripPlanner directory, which is to be available on the mobile Web platform shortly after the NBAA show, according to Marcus Walker, product manager for flight planning. When customers access Universal’s Web site via their mobile devices, the system will automatically recognize the type of device and optimize the display for that device, he explained.