by Jim McCanney
MnDOT Office of Aeronautics
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2020 issue
MnDOT creates a “Minnesota Airport Directory and Travel Guide” every year. Our goal is to provide the public with some general aviation information and a guide to all the public airports and public seaplane bases in Minnesota. We give some general airport information, a map of the airport layout with runway numbers, and length/width. We also provide travel information, such as local attractions, lodging, restaurants, camping, and airport events. Until last year, we had only made this guide in print form. In recent years, the iPad has become a more affordable and essential tool in the cockpit. With that in mind, we set out to see how we could expand our guide to be more accessible to a broader audience and take advantage of the technology available. That doesn’t mean the print version is going away; this is just another option.
In 2018, ForeFlight developed “content packs” in Version 10.6 for all users. Content packs would allow the user to “Create and share custom bundles of maps, waypoints, procedures, and documents that enhance your planning with ForeFlight.” So far, ForeFlight has seen the use of content packs by flight schools, charter, and pipeline flyers.
I talked to ForeFlight about the concept of content packs and what the idea was behind them. They developed content packs to “give users control over the type of critical information they need to see in ForeFlight for things like wildfire fighting, backcountry flying, custom procedures and charts, custom PDFs, flight training, sightseeing tours, and more.” They like to see more state and local agencies use these features.
Our content pack began with Rylan Juran, our planning director, seeing the possibilities when he heard about ForeFlight’s new 10.6 feature. In previous years, the directory was mostly seen by people in Minnesota. Our goal was to take what we already developed (the book) and put it in ForeFlight to reach a broader audience and make it more accessible. He took the first step and separated the airport directory into individual PDFs for the content pack. I ultimately took it over and started experimenting with different pieces of the text and implementation into ForeFlight mobile. We edited the PDFs to make every phone number, email address, and website a hyperlink. If you needed to call someone or email an airport manager, you wouldn’t have to copy and paste; you could one-click in the app, and it would open your mail or phone app.
To download our content pack, go to https://www.dot.state.mn.us/aero/airportdirectory/ on your iPad preferably, and open the content pack (into ForeFlight) from the website. You can also email it to yourself and open “in ForeFlight.” ForeFlight has a pretty good description of how to import the files if you get stuck, and we reference that on our site. To use the content pack, you can click on an airport in the map tab or click on the airport tab and search for an airport. Once in the airport tab, scroll down to the “Procedures” section, and you should see a tab for “MN Airport Directory.”
We are releasing a new content pack this spring for Seaplane Pilots. We have taken the public seaplane bases in Minnesota and added water contour lines to show water depth. Some lakes will also show the longest stretch of waterway to give pilots a landing zone reference. This pack is slightly different than the current one. It will be geo-referenced. As you move the map around, zoom in and out, the lines will adjust and stay to the specified lakes. This pack will act as a layer that you can enable or disable as you want it. We are excited about this release. I haven’t seen anything like this for seaplane pilots before. We will also be updating our current Airport Directory content pack with the updated data we collected over the last year.
In the future, we hope to have a quicker update process. Wed love to update the information (content pack) faster. We are also working on a system to get comments, recommendations, and errors that pilots are finding while using the app. We would love to get feedback as far as restaurants closing, or places that aren’t yet in the directory. One of our restrictions with the paper travel guide is we can only fit as much information as the page allows. With the digital form, we could make the amount of data as big as the public would want. We could add new categories and sections we haven’t used in the past. If someone opens a new business, wed like to add that as soon as possible. If the public uses the tool a lot and gives good feedback, I think we’ll have no problem updating this information monthly.
Next time you’re thinking of flying to or through Minnesota, and you’re a ForeFlight user, please download our content pack. Please email me with your thoughts and suggestions on how it could change to make flying better for the public. I hope you find it useful and it makes your travel experience in our state more enjoyable.