Saturday, June 10, 2006

Aviation Sectionals meet Google maps.

There is an interesting observation about google tools. The observation is that google is merely reinventing things that already exits.
  • Google's core product, search had existed long before they did it.
  • Online comparison shopping could be done at several sites before Froogle showed up.
  • email was a commodity before gmail.
  • Instant messaging with voice was provided by the masses before talk.
  • and how many sites provided mapping services before the arrival of Google maps?
But based on the popularity of these services, it is apparent that Google just did them better, showing that innovation is not the invention of something new, it is improving something we already do.

Like Google has done for the internet, Garmin has brought innovation to the aviation masses. General aviation is benefiting extensively from Garmin's work. GPS for instance is not a new technology, it is fundamentally, LORAN improved. We are also seeing the merger of computers and instrumentation to give us cockpit resources such as moving map displays that vastly increase our situational awareness, as well as integrated flight systems. Again, these have existed for many years, but Garmin has made them standard equiptment in most new aircraft.

One area in which we are just starting to see this innovation is charting and flight planning. A local company Seattle Avionics is driving out their version of an electronic flight bag.

But the innovation I find most fascinating is the delivery of the charts. In the bad ol' days, I would go to the airport and buy the paper charts. Some of these would expire every six months, others ever 56 days, and I would be back to the store to buy more. The 56 day expiration cycle is particularity annoying. While I appreciate the dynamic nature of the airspace around me, not all of it would change in the 56 day cycle. But the charts are sold in packs. For example, I fly primarily in the state of Washington, which is part of the NW-1 pack, which also includes Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. So every 56 days I get ALL of the charts for all 5 states, and I throw the old ones in the recycling. Yuck.

Sure there are options to subscribe only to the changes, but now I'm sitting down every eight weeks to sort through 400 or so pages to replace the 20 or so that have been changed.

But now places like Airnav and AOPA (membership required) let me just download the chart or two that I need for the flight I am headed off to fly. It requires a bit more thinking to make sure I also include any alternates I may require, but this still reduces my paper burn.

Sectionals are needed in the airplane, and I still end up buying one every six months, but now there are several online services that combine the ease of Google maps with aviation Sectionals, and throw in the current weather to boot! Next, I need satellite based TCP/IP for my laptop, or airplane panel mount display, to allow me to use these resources real time in the cockpit. Can I get connexion in my GA aircraft?