Has the day dawned when you no longer need paper charts for an IFR trip? Not quite. With moving map technology such as Avidynes FlightMax and UPSAT/Apollos MX-20, all the enroute data is available on flash card memory.
But not approach plates. At least not at a price most of us would be willing to pay for the moment. That might change next year but for now, were still stuck needing paper charts.
As we reported in the May issue, the chart market is more competitive than ever, with plenty of providers offering various packages and coverages. But unless you own something that burns kerosene, you probably dont subscribe to nationwide coverage with either FAA/NOAA or Jeppesen products.
So the odd trip to Oshkosh or halfway across the continent requires a quick-hit trip kit. Where are the best values and how do you get them quickly?
For ease of purchase, you cant beat FAA/NOAA (formerly NOS) sold retail. The approach booklets normally sell at the recommended retail of $4.25 each, plus $4.10 each for enroute charts. Buy only what you need when you need it, then discard it when youre done.
If these products arent available retail nearby, there are other sources-online, by phone-that can deliver in a day or two. Sportys, for example, sells both approach booklets and enroutes for the suggested retail price and delivers in two or three days via Airborne or USPS Priority.
Shipping for three booklets and two enroutes, a typical trip kit, is $6.25. You can now order these products online, a recent addition by Sportys. On the Web site, you can specify standard shipping or overnight via DHL, which costs about $22 for a typical order.
The National Aeronautical Charting Office-the government source for these publications-sells directly at essentially the same prices as Sportys, plus the shipping. NACOs Web site (http://acc.nos.noaa.gov) lists the products online but they have to be ordered by telephone.
Shipping options are regular mail in 10 to 12 days or an expedited service via FedEx for $6. (It still take two to three days.)
We would rate the FAAs phone order service as just terrible, with long waits and a callback system hardly worthy of the name. Sportys has the shortest telephone wait, seesawing with Jeppesen over how long you spend dawdling on hold. We think Sportys is a little better at this game.
Youd think that the Web would be a natural for delivering on demand chart products and well be the first to admit that it has potential. Various sites offer sales of paper chart products but only one bills itself as a purveyor of trip kit and planning services.
AeroPlanner.com offers a by-subscription-only service that includes flight planning and Trip Ticks that are the aeronautical equivalent of AAAs map-marked routes. You specify the departure and destination airports, and AeroPlanner creates a customized and marked route, complete with strip charts (sectionals only), airport diagrams, enroute nav data and notams.
The Trip Ticks are in Adobes PDF format and can be downloaded, printed or loaded into a PDA for use in the cockpit. AeroPlanner says the chart images are compatible with Teletype, OziExplorer, Fugawi, Airplan and GPSPilot, all applications that run on PDAs.
AeroPlanner also offers what it calls Palm Chunks, which are geo-referenced chart products suitable for use with a Palm Pilot PDA. Plug in GPS positioning information and youve got your own PDA-based moving map.
AeroPlanner.coms services are available by subscription ($99.95 a year) or a la carte, at $6.95 per Trip Tick. One minor drawback: As of early June, the FAA/NOAA approach plates this service provides were available only through a link arrangement with EchoFlight and not packaged with the Trip Ticks, an awkward arrangement. AeroPlanner says the plates will be available with the Trip Ticks soon.
Although $99.95 a year seems high, AeroPlanner does offer quite a lot of information for the money, including weather links, hotel information, car rental contacts and the like, all in one fat package.
For approach plates online alone-no enroute charts-theres always the American Flyers Web site (www.americanflyers.com). For prices ranging from between a nickel and a dime, depending on volume, you can download and print the government approach plates. Five bucks would probably buy all the plates you need for a typical trip. Then again, five bucks will also buy an FAA/NOAA booklet full of them.
Although it has an extensive online presence, Jeppesen only takes e-commerce orders for paper or digital CD-ROM trip kits on its Web site. It doesnt yet offer online delivery.
A Jepp trip kit, then, is standard airway manual coverage of an area specified by the buyer. In effect, these are the equivalent starting contents of Jeppesens Express subscription service. Various coverage areas are available, ranging from the northeast, southeast, east and west of the Mississippi and so forth, down to a few single states.
Entire U.S. coverage costs $315 (or $233 for regular subscribers) and some individual states are available, such as Florida for $29.
Although we like Jeppesens typography, compared to one-time purchases of FAA/NOAA products, theyre expensive and since theres no bound booklet option, youll also need the seven-ring binders, which add to the cost of Jeppesen trip kits.
Cost aside, Jeppesens top-of-the-line offering for trip kits is its JeppView CD-ROM service. You can buy JeppView as either a subscription or one-time, full U.S. coverage or a sub-area down to regions such as the northeast or southeast.
We like JeppViews ability to print only the airports of interest and perhaps a few alternates along the way. This makes it more flexible than AeroPlanners online offering but less complete than purchasing the relevant FAA/NOAA products for a lot less money. JeppView full U.S. coverage is $772 but smaller areas are also avilable.
As we reported in the May issue, Air Charts repackages FAA/NOAA products into large-format atlases and offers the choice of loose-leaf or bound approach plate booklets. But as with Jeppesen products, its difficult to put together a cheap package. On the other hand, you get more for what you pay.
If you were venturing into the southwest from the Seattle area, for example, Air Charts could fix you up with an IFR atlas with full U.S. enroute chart coverage ($95), plus the three approach-plate booklets for an additional $55. Total: $150. One-time FAA/NOAA coverage for the same trip would cost only $33.25. But Air Charts price include the entire U.S. enroute plus a years subscription to the paper-based revision service, which is the only way these products can be purchased. Alternatively, another way to skin this cat, as we noted in our May report, is to buy the Air Chart updater service to freshen a stale Jeppesen or FAA/NOAA chart selection, assuming you have some charts of the area youre interested in to begin with. The updater alerts you to chart/plate changes and allows you to download the appropriate plate from the Air Charts Web site, if you want it.
Surprisingly, despite the competition, the existence of electronic charting and wide choices in suppliers, theres not much price variability in the trip kit biz. From Jeppesen, you pay a lot to get a lot but functionally, the charts dont do anymore than the cheaper FAA/NOAA product and in most cases, you use the trip kit once and then trash it.
With that in mind, we think FAA/NOAA products are the hands-down best value when you need charts in a hurry but dont want to spend a bundle of money. Our research shows that the price difference between buying from Sportys or a local retail outlet-if you can find one-is the shipping cost.
Sportys, incidentally, is now the certified vendor for AOPA, which dropped its chart sales service a while back. Although Sportys is not always price competitive on all of its products, it appears to be on chart products. Other vendors-Aircraft Spruce and Specialty-also sell chart products but we give Sportys the edge on quick delivery of the widest range of products. (Sportys is the largest volume seller of FAA/NOAA products.) AirPlanner.com is coming along and at $99.95 for essentially unlimited trip kit services, its not a bad deal. But it lacks cockpit flexibility; if you need to divert or otherwise change your plans, youre stuck with the charts and plates you printed.
JeppView has the same limitation but its easier to have the program spit out selected alternates along the way, so you at least have Plan B coverage. Of all the computer generated products, JeppView products are far and away the sharpest looking, even if they arent bargain priced.