December 2008 Issue

A Heavenly Wedding: Pilots and Paper

This monthís review of Garminís new GPSmap 696 once again raises a perennial conundrum. The bones of it are sketched in Joseph Matalonís letter on the opposite page. Why, in an age of instant wireless communication where half of us have Blackberries surgically implanted in our skulls, do we persist in being so hopelessly wedded to paper in the cockpit? We say we want electronic charts, but manyóprobably most of usóhaul around big bags full of paper charts, just in case. Charts that require constant revisions, or so we have convinced ourselves to believe. Whatís going on here? You could argue that itís belt-and-suspenders syndrome. The electronics are great, but what if they go dark? Iíll be stuck, right? Viewed through the prism of risk management, this is a silly argument. First of all, the likelihood of one of these systems failing to produce a chart at a moment when it really matters is slim to none. "Really matters" means you absolutely couldnít survive without the paper chart.

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