Aircraft Performance Group (APG) launched in 1999 with a clear mission, according to CEO Mike Caflisch, to help pilots determine “can you clear that hill at the end of the runway?” Since then the mission has grown to include more preflight planning functions in the form of an iPad app appropriately named iPreFlight. Now APG has launched a new flight-planning app called Genesis, and the mission has morphed into “how can I get to where I need to go after I clear that hill?”
Genesis picks up where APG’s iPreFlight app leaves off, by adding a new flight-planning engine that adds the finishing touches to iPreFlight’s weight-and-balance and runway analysis modules. With Genesis, pilots, dispatchers, and flight operations can plan and file a flight plan after loading up the airplane and evaluating runway performance capabilities, which include takeoff and landing data for that particular airplane. Demonstrations of Genesis are available at the APG booth (4179).
Genesis starts with a logical flow, with a trip button that answers questions about planning a trip anywhere from right away to well into the future. The trip considers passenger and cargo loading for a particular airplane, plus departure, en route, and destination weather, for optimizing performance and to help determine if conditions allow the planned flight. Evaluating these parameters takes just 20 to 30 seconds, giving dispatchers and pilots the ability to respond to requests quickly and with a high degree of confidence.
The next step is the summary page, which shows the departure and arrival airports and their weather conditions, the flight plan route, and runway analysis information for the selected runway at the departure airport. The analysis shows the departure procedure for each runway and the weight limits, given the forecast weather conditions, up to 240 hours (10 days) from the estimated time of departure or arrival. For flight plans outside of 240 hours, APG has purchased historical weather data for nearly 9,000 airports, allowing users to evaluate a future trip based on that data, to give an idea of the runway performance well in advance of the trip. The weather database includes 10 years of airport weather and 20 years of winds and temperatures aloft.
Once critical parameters are shown in green on the summary page, the user can then file the flight plan. Any of the parameters can be changed quickly by clicking on the weight-and-balance or runway analysis buttons. For example, passengers, cargo, and fuel can be adjusted on an image of the aircraft. On the runway analysis module, all of the available runways are shown along with weight limits. Performance criteria can be changed, such as flaps settings, runway condition, bleeds closed or open, and others.
Genesis optimizes the flight plan based on winds and temperatures aloft using the SelectRoute tool, which also offers recently cleared and preferred routes. The user can see how weather affects the planned route by looking at a visual representation of the flight with weather layers that include various flavors of radar as well as lightning, pilot reports, etc.
Smart Routing Features
Genesis has an autorouter that automatically plots the route based on the aircraft settings. For example, a non-RNAV-capable aircraft won’t be given a flight plan that it can’t fly. If the aircraft isn’t equipped with life rafts, Genesis won’t try to send it on an overwater route.
For cruise performance, the user can select long-range or high-speed cruise or in-between speeds. But if that doesn’t match actual experience in flight, the user can set biases for climb, cruise, and descent to adjust those to match actual experience. In a future version of Genesis, pilots will be able to use data points from flights to modify the performance database.
APG’s Genesis designers used a unique method for changing the route. Instead of rubber-banding or rewriting the textual description of the route, the user simply draws a rectangle around the weather then pushes the “finish” button. Genesis automatically recalculates a new fileable route. The new route knows the aircraft’s RNAV capability and whether or not the flight plan must remain on airways or can fly off airways. This solution avoids the problem of a rubber-banded change generating a flight plan that will get rejected. It also removes the need for the user to figure out how to write a text-based change that will be acceptable. The user can play with different “avoids” by drawing new rectangles, then clicking the “undo last” button to return to the original route. The flight plan change isn’t carved in stone until the user clicks the “apply changes” button.
The flight planning capability is available when the app is not connected to the internet, although weather conditions would not be current. When not connected, Genesis taps into its historical weather database to help the user determine whether the trip can be flown and to provide an overall view of the trip. Once connected, the flight plan would include updated weather.
Genesis isn’t currently able to show own-ship position during the flight, nor can a flight plan be modified once the trip begins. These capabilities are on the roadmap for future upgrades.
One of the key benefits of Genesis is the ability to change parameters and see how those affect the flight. If the user started with a dry runway, for example, that can be changed to wet, and this instantly updates all of the modules (weight-and-balance, runway analysis, and flight planning).
Genesis is capable of planning international trips and also determines valid tracks for ocean crossings or calculates the route if flying above the tracks. Genesis also provides a graphical view of SIDs and STARs to help the user see which one might be optimal for the planned route. Three alternate airports with weather reporting are selected automatically, based on airports at which the selected aircraft is able to land safely.
APG tested Genesis extensively with pilots and users, with seven rounds of focus group testing and beta testing by operators. “We wanted to get the visuals and workflow right,” Caflisch said. “And we wanted to have full-featured robust flight planning capability to work seamlessly with runway analysis and weight-and-balance calculations, including offline.”
Genesis will eventually replace iPreFlight, he said. While Genesis was designed to be platform-independent, it will be offered only as an iOS app. Eventually, it could be ported to Android and Windows devices. Genesis is priced per aircraft, and all three modules are included in the cost, as well as domestic and international flight planning. There is no extra charge for flight plan filing.
“For us [Genesis] is a new beginning,” Caflisch said. “It’s the next generation of where we’re going as a company, just a natural next step.”