Now that at least some of the blood from the dotcom shakeout has been rinsed off the sidewalk, maybe were finally getting serious about genuinely useful aviation information on the Web.
And some of it youll even have to pay for. In our Oshkosh report last summer, we noted a couple of new Web-based aviation ventures fearlessly launching as others dropped like flies. Heres a summary:
Worried about losing your logbooks? Want access to them while traveling without the concern of losing them somewhere? PlaneLog.com purports to have a solution.This new site lets you upload aircraft log entries to password-protected internet storage and access. The idea here is that youll have secure and accessible storage to your logs while on the road without having to cart the paper around with the attendant risk of losing whats not replaceable.
The system can be set up with reminders to notify the owner of needed inspections and certifications, including IFR or Part 135. In the standard version, a static list of applicable ADs is provided. In the professional iteration, the ADs are updated continuously. Not a bad idea, when you think about it.
A nice feature is the ability to search for a desired word or part number, useful for checking the frequency with which a particular part or accessory has been repaired or replaced or quickly determining applicability of a new AD.
Currently, all log info has to be typed into the system. The owner can do it or-for an additional fee, of course-PlaneLog will input from a photocopy. Either way, an IA reviews the written logs and what has been typed in and certifies that the digitized version is a true representation of the originals.
If the logs are lost, the entries can be reprinted, then sent back to the original A&P or AI for his signature. In other words, the log can be rebuilt as an original. Copies will have to do where the mechanic is no longer available.
PlaneLog strikes us as potentially useful for a variety of reasons, including the aforementioned convenience, the financial security of remotely stored logs and the ability to access logs from an out-of-town repair station.
As could be predicted from the labor-intensive nature of the input, however, this is an expensive convenience. The standard version (static AD list) is $99 initially for a single and $129 for a twin, with a monthly fee of $22.95 and $25.95 a month, respectively.
The professional version costs $149 or $179 up front and $29.95 or $32.95 monthly. Unspecified discounts are available for fleets. A separate product provides essentially the same service for personal logbooks, including currency and medical alerts and the like. Its $99 for the first year and $29 a year thereafter.
PlaneLog offers a 30-day free trial membership if youd like to check it out, but well probably stick with primitive storage for the time being.AD lists are available elsewhere and keeping a photocopy in the file cabinet lets you do a manual-albeit tedious-search for items and data.
Whether automating those functions and having them accessible from anywhere that has a net connection is worth upwards of $400 in the first year is a personal call but, frankly, were not seeing good value there for the average owner. As for protection of the logs themselves, a safe deposit box isnt convenient, but its definitely safe for a lot less money. You can have long-term convenience and reasonable safety for half the first years cost by buying a good two-hour fire safe, if youre well and truly paranoid about losing your logs. While youre at it, pay someone to photocopy the logs; official or not, theyll likely satisfy a potential buyer and protect the value of your airplane.
One last thing to consider: Online log storage is only as permanent, available and safe as the storage site and its operator, so dont use the paper logs for kindling once theyre uploaded to PlaneLog or any other online storage site. But then you knew that, right?
WebFBO is an online aircraft scheduling program geared primarily to-oddly enough- FBOs. It could also be of interest, however, to whatever poor soul is tagged with answering the phone and keeping up manually with flying club or partner schedules. As part of the package, this company gives you limited space as a standalone Web site or you can link from an existing page.
From the customers side, the interface is intuitive and simple. A calendar of icons shows the availability of aircraft or instructor by date and hour. Users can request in advance any additional available services needed such as pre-heat and can put themselves on standby for an aircraft already reserved.
Renters are able to store all relevant information about themselves, including contact information, expiration of medicals and the like. Probably the best ancillary goody from the renters point of view is the interactive, aircraft-specific weight and balance page.
Theres a METAR query function on the home page as well. The system should also be useful for off-site instructors, who can check remotely when and by whom their services have been scheduled.
As the name suggests, however, the product is geared almost exclusively to the preferences and convenience of the FBO. For example, the weight and balance page can be defeated by businesses who want your money but not any additional potential responsibility.
Even more one-sided is the ability to require the user to accept past a screen saying the FBO isnt responsible for anything and they dont have to kick your cold, dead body off the ramp before the reservation will be processed. (The sound you hear in the background is lawyers laughing.)
It appears from the renters side that entered squawks have been forwarded automatically to maintenance. Thats assuming, of course, that maintenance has e-mail and checks it. It made us a bit uneasy to discover that the FBO side of the equation-you know, the folks who made you accept responsibility for their negligence- can change some entries after submission. The developer assures us that this capability does not extend to submitted squawks and that they cannot be altered once entered.
On the positive side, notification of cancellations due to maintenance, instructor illness and the like can be made by any electronic method specified by the pilot. If an airplane of similar type is available, the renter can be placed in that airplane and notified electronically of the change.
Cost is one dollar per day per aircraft. Theres supposed to be a $1000 set-up fee, but its being waived at least until early May. For a one horse flying club where all members have net access, $30 a month to keep good, accessible usage records as well as eliminate internecine squabbling, misunderstandings and telephone tag could be a genuine bargain, at least until the set-up waiver expires.
The same could well be true for a small rental operation where the office help is generally out instructing, refueling or swinging a wrench. An FBO with 10 aircraft will probably have somebody hanging around inside anyway and might be less interested in a Robbie Robot assistant.
Still, with savvy computer users expecting online access for everything, this idea-if not this particular execution-has merit, in our view.
Did we say all the new aviation sites coming along are pay-per-play? Well, not really. Two worth mentioning are Aeroplanner and iPilot, both of which made noise at Oshkosh last summer. www.Aeroplanner.com purports to be a one-stop flight planning site and comes close. But it pays to familiarize yourself with all of its toys and a good processor and net connection will be helpful to handle the sites interactive graphics-intensive format.
Aeroplanner is organized around categories housing a plenitude of tools and functions. For trip planning, you can begin by viewing the appropriate portion of the VFR sectional with the Smart Chart tool. Trip planning begins with inputting routes or accessing stored routes, which can be displayed on interactive IFR or VFR maps, with a link to weather displays. Dont know the identifier? No problem. Select the city, type in the name and youll get a drop menu of all hits. Icons above each waypoint give one-click access to local weather, text and graphic, and VFR or IFR maps.
Triptick computes map-lets covering the entire route and lets you print off kneeboard size versions of what you want. There are so many functions and options within this section site that some quality time with the online tutorial would be helpful.
Youd be hard pressed to want a meteorological product that isnt available on the weather page, including some great experimental sites. The tools and reference section contains elements ranging from the obvious to the arcane. Registered users can also keep an online logbook.
One thing we liked about Aeroplanner is that most functions are linked directly to all other categories, allowing you to jump to a different category without having to back out. Given the percentage of also rans in this niche, its refreshing to see something this mature and thoughtful emerge. Then again, one wonders if itll last relying on ad revenue.
Extant since Oshkosh, iPilot (which appears to stand for Interactive Pilot) is less accomplished and polished than Aeroplanner, in our view. Nevertheless, a couple of features are worth pointing out. One unusual component is the aircraft comparison function, under the learn menu. Comparison is a bit of a misnomer, however. In effect, its a spread sheet filter function limited to aircraft currently in production and it can be queried for single aircraft.
Potentially of value is the ability to practice the private pilot and instrument written tests online. Tests for commercial and up are billed as coming attractions. Theres some interesting editorial content, but the sparse news bullets are just links to other pages. The Ask the Experts function allows users to pose written questions on a variety of categories which are answered publicly. iPilots flight planning functions are primitive. Weather is accessed one identifier at a time and the trip calculator is just a single leg time/distance computation. There is an AFD-type database wherein specs for particular airports can be displayed with the ability for users to input fuel price information. A linked page can display all airports within a specified radius of the primary.
One area in which iPilot does appear to be unique (for the moment) is its capability to feed METARs to most mobile phones. Otherwise, iPilot mirrors functions of other websites which do it better. In our view, this site will need work if its going to survive the rather worthy competition competing for limited eyeballs.
-By Jane Garvey
Jane Garvey is an Aviation Consumer contributing editor.