In the Fall of 2019, ARINCDirect released Version 6.0 of its flight-support iPad app. This article will concentrate on the biggest feature in that release: the flight-plan Plotting Chart.
But first, a few words about the iPad app itself. Development started in early 2011 and the first release was later that year. The app cemented itself quickly as a favorite among our flight-support customers, and development has continued in the subsequent years.
In releases prior to the Plotting Chart, the app was already a full-featured flight-execution application. It provided a preflight checklist, a rendered flight plan (that can be annotated on-the-fly), ability to file and cancel plans, weather data and NOTAMs, plus access to company, user, aircraft, and leg documents. Further, it has airport diagrams and a sophisticated zoom-able, pan-able map showing route of flight, weather layers, radar, and other important planning visuals. Finally, pilots can compute weight-and-balance and point performance directly in the app, even if they have no Internet connection.
Back to the Plotting Chart: Operators crossing large bodies of water are required by aviation regulators (and prudence) to plot their positions at certain points along the way, and 5-10 minutes after a plotted point, to plot again to ensure they're not on the cusp of a GNE (gross navigational error).
Prior to the ARINCDirect electronic Plotting Chart, this was typically done on a paper chart, unfolded. Pilot and checker would handwrite a circle when they checked each point against the flight plan and flight management system, then an X on the circle when it's crossed and confirmed. A smaller x gets marked at the 5- or 10-minute course validation (GNE check). At each point, a set of numbers is written (again by hand) on the unfolded chart: actual time over the point, actual fuel remaining, altimeter checks, and the like.
And then, at the end of the flight, the plotting chart and another artifact called the Master Document, are saved and stored, typically as hardcopies, for six months. If this entire process sounds like it's ripe for a better approach, the ARINCDirect Mobile Team agrees.
The flight-support app already has a high-resolution map with route of flight already plotted, so we added the ability to define the "critical area" (the over-water portion) and to perform all the steps of manual plotting directly on the app's map. There are easy-to-use data entry "widgets" for each type of data to be collected:
- Out/Off/On/In reports
- Oceanic Clearance (including editing)
- Position Reports
The app adds several important visualizations: (1) ETPs (equal time points) for at-a-glance awareness when diversion is needed. The app adds "Live ETPs," which updates direction and distance to ETP airports every two minutes. (2) Track-based routes. (3) ETOPS (extended twin-engine operations range rings).
At the end of the flight, the app saves a full-featured master document and a high-resolution version of the plotting chart. These are automatically pushed back to the ARINCDirect backend servers and remain available for six months.
If that sounds like a lot, it's because it IS a lot. ARINCDirect was first in the market with an electronic plotting chart; it's become clear that in a few short months it has become central to the safe operations of many flight departments.
We are not done with this app yet, and may never be, thanks to the great ideas we get from our customers. What does the future hold for the iPad app? Well, we don't like to make promises about functionality or dates because it's software and has uncertainties both internal and external. But here are some of the things we're working on:
- Plotting Chart Phase 2 -- redesigned position-reporting cards, third-party flight plan support, automated storage of track messages, timers for course-validation checks, time and fuel deltas against plan, easier route editing, and support throughout the app for dark mode (sometimes called night mode).
- In-app W&B/Performance for aircraft that plan in metric units.