Flight planners expand their online trip-support services

 - May 7, 2009, 11:18 AM

Going forward, Stephens said satellite communications will help, too, for example by allowing on-board WiFi to give broadband Internet access via SwiftBroadband. Universal also is working to integrate with third-party scheduling software “so that clients can run a flight plan within our software and then upload it to their aircraft.”

Advantages of powerful trip-support software include automatic validation of all the parameters–for example, ensuring compliance with regulations and permits, 24-hour access, using previously stored trips to create new ones, and the ability to handle last-minute changes more easily. This is the theory anyway, and the companies producing the software are working hard to make their products the one-stop solution that their clients clearly want.

Adoption of this Utopian online world is a gradual process. As the tools become better, more will be happy to rely on them. Many operators have yet to see the full benefits of bringing all their various planning and trip-execution tools together.

Aircraft management and charter operator TAG Aviation uses the Flight Operations System (FOS) from Charlottesville, Virginia-based Computing Technologies for Aviation (CTA). “FOS is our main system, accessible by all three of our AOCs,” Beverley Longbotham, operations manager at TAG Farnborough, explained to EBACE Convention News. “Anyone can see it, as it’s the main operating tool. Then we use Jeppesen as our main flight planning tool, but it is standalone, Guru for weight and balance, and Danish software for airfield performance.

“We are quite advanced,” added Longbotham. “Generally people use Jeppesen for flight planning, charts and so on because they’re the most reliable and other systems generally take too long.

“We would love not to have to print performance data. The pilots take it all with them and we have to fax it to them if required,” she added. “Electronic flight bags would be brilliant but at the moment aren’t approved. Even in the EASy cockpit where we have a screen for Jeppesen, you still have to have the printed version of the charts and have to use them.”

Another enhancement Longbotham would like to see is real-time flight tracking. “The Americans have this and Eurocontrol’s CFMU [central flow management unit] is working on releasing the [real-time] information.”

Ground Handling
An example of a service that can be “linked in” is ground handling. Fractional operator NetJets uses FBO One from Amsterdam Software, which is also being used by 11 ground handlers at airports across Europe. Ocean Sky at Manchester and Luton, and JetEx at Paris Le Bourget are the latest new customers for the program, according to Amsterdam CEO Ries Vriend.

“The system automatically processes handling requests from operators such as NetJets Europe,” said Vriend. “The operations planning is automatically updated with flight times, service requests and aircraft changes. FBO One is linked to CFMU/Eurocontrol, so it has a display of inbound and outbound traffic. This greatly helps the ground-handling staff.”

The FBO One service is not charged to aircraft operators, it is subscribed to by the ground handlers. “In the current challenging economic times, FBO One is experiencing strong growth,” said Vriend. “The service does not require a license fee, but instead is charged on a per-transaction basis. This allows FBOs to [charge off] use the system as costs on their profit-and-loss account. These costs can easily be offset against the operational savings and increases in efficiency.”

Vriend said the company has an XML-based API (application programmer interface) for FBO One which allows handlers to send requests in XML format by e-mail for automatic processing. “We are working closely at the moment with Universal. I expect that this year we will start processing their current text-based e-mail handing requests as a quick-win, and then to a more robust XML-based solution later.”

The same approach has been taken by NetJets, which this month should be able to send structured XML files from their systems. Vriend is also confident that interfaces will be built for other companies, as he had already spoken with Air Routing, Baseops International (Booth No. 1343) and Jeppesen (Booth No. 729).

Travico (Booth No. 1070) is another company that has created aircraft management software but it has had a low profile, said sales and marketing manager Stefano Costi. “This is aircraft management software, which is so much more than flight planning,” said Costi. “We were the first software to get Chapter 7 EU Ops approval which was a big step forward.”
Travico counts Jet Alliance and Comlux among its customers, and ExecuJet Aviation was its launch customer several years ago. Speaking ahead of EBACE 2009, Costi said, “Hopefully we will launch a Windows mobile tool at EBACE, where we are exhibiting for the first time.” This will allow post-flight actions to be delegated to crew. Travico’s Web portal (bizflight.net) is on a Citrix environment so is not a Web application. Costi said it is more secure and is accessed only via a “Web front-door.”