Jeppesen Embraces Digital Revolution

by Jim Bildilli

Mark Van Tine, President and CEO of Jeppesen (a Boeing Company), spoke at the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, September 10, 2012. Van Tine’s remarks were on the transformation and adoption of new digital technologies in the aviation industry to reduce costs and increase operational efficiencies.

If you are a pilot, you are probably aware of the name “Jeppesen,” or have at least seen it somewhere around the airport. However, most of us are probably unaware of why the name is so pervasive. It all started with a pilot named Elrey Borge Jeppesen.

Because of the lack of good information about landing fields and the routes between them, Jeppesen started publishing his own “charts” in 1934 as a pilot flying mail and an occasional passenger for Varney Airlines. Initially, the guides were printed copies of Jeppesen’s personal charts, which he sold for $10 each. Other pilots noted their usefulness and began giving him information about their routes for incorporation as well.

Although Jeppesen personally flew several routes, the most challenging was from St. Louis to Los Angeles. Flying a Boeing Model 40, the segment from Cheyenne to Rock Springs, Wyoming was probably the most dangerous due to the constantly changing weather and terrain. If the mail load was light, he would occasionally fly a few brave passengers. Two such passengers were Mr. and Mrs. William Boeing, another well-known name in aviation circles. Boeing founded his own airline and started purchasing other air mail carriers including Varney Airlines.

After the passage of the Air Mail Act of 1934, the company split and United Airlines became a separate entity. With its close ties to Elrey Jeppesen, United Airlines was one of the first to use the now famous “Jeppesen” charts. With demand increasing in the late 1930s, Jeppesen quit his captain’s job at United and concentrated his efforts on the publication of charts.

Since those early days, Jeppesen’s approach plates and charts have grown to over 1 billion sheets of paper that gets sent to subscribers bi-weekly. Those sheets, if piled in 88 separate stacks, would exceed the 2717 ft. high Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Most commercial and airline pilots today carry around a flight bag containing Jeppesen charts and approach plates to most locations within the U.S. That bag has an average weight in excess of 40 pounds. But that is now changing with the expansion of today’s technology using iPads in the cockpit.

The move away from printed materials has not only reduced the impact upon the environment, but has reduced that weight to a little over 1.6 pounds. Updates are made electronically, thereby reducing the cost of mailing and manually updating each book every two weeks, which is very time-consuming. It also reduces the chances of not having the latest information in the cockpit because the “changes” hadn’t arrived in the mail.

The FAA approved the first use of electronic approach plates in 2001. Since then, the technology has been enhanced by the use of digital mapping where even the airport diagrams used for taxiing and gate locations are now being replaced by moving map displays on the iPad. So far, the accuracy is better than 10 meters, which can be repeated correctly 99.4% of the time. Needless to say, “incursions” should be reduced because the moving map displays give pilots better situational awareness.

The Jeppesen Company predicts that the migration to the electronic format will increase even more rapidly in the future. The basis for their optimism is the growing demand for new aircraft and pilots. Currently, the aviation industry is predicting that there will be a need for over 34,000 new aircraft and nearly 460,000 pilots and aviation technical personnel by 2031 to fly and maintain those aircraft. The highest demand will be for pilots and aviation professionals to fill the needs of the growing Asian market. Whether or not the impact of the projected increase in aircraft and pilots is considered, the use of iPads and other digital devices will continue to increase at an exponential rate.

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