SW Aviator Magazine - April/May 1999 issue
Taking off in the Information Runway
by Don Mickey
Taking Off on the Information Runway
As buzzwords like “url” and “bandwidth” and phrases like the “information superhighway” have made their way into everyday speech, a person can’t help but feel the pressure to “surf.” Everybody’s doing it. The Internet has grown from a tightly controlled network of Pentagon computers to an ever-changing worldwide public forum, available to anyone with a phone line and the right combination of chirps and beeps.

“So, what,” you may ask, “does the Internet have to do with aviation?” I’m glad you asked. The Internet gives us the ability to search through information from an almost inconceivable number of worldwide sources. This inherent aspect—the infinite number of possibilities, is both an advantage and a drawback.

The Internet can provide you, the pilot, with a wealth of information, an boundless collection of resources and a whole lotta ways to waste away the hours on those days when visibility is down to nothing, the wind won’t quit and the plane’s in for annual. But when you need specific information quickly, finding it on the Internet can be a daunting task for even the most experienced computer jockey.

This column is designed to help you, the pilot, use the Internet as a tool. We have spent innumerable hours searching for the best aviation-related sites, and we review them here. So, when you taxi down to the information runway and take off, you’re not flying blind. Use these vectors to make your web surfing trip more enjoyable and more useful.

This is definitely one of the most useful aviation-related web sites on the web. As the site’s introduction states, “AirNav provides free detailed aeronautical information on airports and navigational aids in the USA. [It] offers some fast database searches, allowing the pilot to retrieve information which may assist in flight planning. It's also useful for some hangar flying on those days when the weather or the checkbook keep you on the ground.”

The site is divided into four basic areas: Airport Information, Navaid Information, Fix Information, and Aviation Fuel Prices and Fuel Stop Planner. Each of these is searchable and all may serve as excellent companions to more conventional flight planning materials. Just click on one of the bright yellow buttons and off you go.

Airport Information
“What was that airport down by Silver City that we flew into a few years ago?” “Do they sell mogas in Clovis?” “What’s the closest airport to Cuchillo?”

The answers to these questions—and just about any other a pilot can conjure up relating to airports—can be found right there on that posphor-lit tube on your desk. The basics of Airport Information are summed up by the section’s subtext: “In a way, it is similar to the AF/D, but with lots more detail and covering more airports (e.g., it also includes private and military fields.).”

Using AirNav’s Airport Information feature is very simple, just type in the airport identifier in the text field and hit the “Get airport information” button. A new page with the airport name and location appears. Next to the location information is a map with a star indicating the location in relation to the nearest cities, roads and bodies of water. (You can even edit the contents of the map, zoom in or out and move around the map—but more on that in the next issue.) Scrolling down the page, more information is available, including specifics on airport operations, airport communications, radio aids to navigate to the airport, airport services, runway information, operational statistics, and available services and facilities, and fuel prices by type and FBO. Finally, there are links to other web sites about each airport and its available services and facilities.

“But what if I don’t know the identifier?” you mumble. That’s fine. Just type in the airport name instead, or even part of the name. Let’s say you know that you’re looking for an airport called “Santa something or other.” Just type in “Santa” and AirNav brings up a list of airports containing the word Santa, a link to each airport’s information page, and a listing of the city each airport serves.

If you don’t know the airport name, but you know the city or even just the approximate location, go to the main Airport Information page and click on the highlighted text, “locate by town/region.” A new page appears with various methods of searching. You start by entering a nearby city, town, zip code, airport identifier, or latitude/longitude. Next, you can select specifics, such as types of fields, instrument approach, runway characteristics, or fuel type. Finally, AirNav lets you choose the area—by distance from the previously specified point—that you would like to search. As an example, we decided to look for airports at which 100LL is available within 30 nautical miles of Questa. The search returned two possibilities, Taos Municipal Airport and Angel Fire Airport, along with the distance and direction from Questa, the city served, and a link to the information page for each airport.

Also on the main Airport Information page, there are links to “browse by state” and to a “list of recent id changes.” The “browse by state” link allows you to choose a state or territory, and AirNav will generate a list of all public landing sites within that area, along with the appropriate links to more specific information. The “list of recent id changes” lists those airports with new identifiers by state, including the old identifier, new identifier, city and airport name.

Navaid Information
The Navaid Information area has a much less specific search interface than the Airport Information page. The interface allows a search only by exact entries—no remembering only part of a name here. You can enter the three letter identifier, the full name, or the frequency which the Navaid transmits.

When the name or identifier are entered, a new page is generated, containing the type, operational characteristics, and location of the Navaid, as well as elevation, variation, technical characteristics and remarks. When we entered “cnx,” for example, we found that the Corona Vortac is located at 34-22-01.255N / 105-40-40.817W, at 6411 ft., with a variation of 13E, and transmits on 115.50. We could have found the same information on a sectional, but where’s the fun in that?

Next, we took the frequency, 115.50, went back to the Navaid Information search page and performed a new Navaid search. The result was a list of 15 Navaids, including Corona Vortac, operating at the same frequency. Each entry listed the specific information for that Navaid. Fascinating, but is it really all that useful?

If you ever wanted to know the exact location, ARTCC association, Navaid radial and use of every fix from AAAMY to ZUWNI, here’s your chance. The fixes are listed alphabetically and subdivided into separate pages by starting letter. Each fix information page is linked to the associated Navaid information page; you could be up all night!

Fuel Plan
The Fuel Plan section of AirNav is arguably one of the most useful and simple approaches to multiple variable searches on the web. Upon linking to the Fuel Plan page, you are given a list of five options, each of which searches for fuel stops based on the specific needs of the user.

The first link lets you “look for fuel in an area.” This page is much like the Airport Information page which allows you to “locate by town/region.” First, enter an airport identifier. Second, select the type of fuel you need. Third, check the appropriate criteria for a suitable landing site, including type of field, instrument approaches and runway characteristics. Finally, click the “Search for airfields with fuel” button.

The result is a new page containing a list—with links—of all airports within 50 nm of the selected airport. The only flaw of this page is the decrease in search capabilities from the “locate by town/region” page. There is no choice for distance, and neither is there the handy feature of listing a town, zip code or geographical location as a starting point. The intended use of the page is much the same as “locate by town/region,” so should be the search capabilities.

Next in the list of links is “check for fuel prices.” This selection asks for an airport identifier and the type of fuel. After clicking on the “get local fuel prices” button, AirNav generates an average fuel price in the 35 nm area around the selected airport, and the lowest price found in that area. In addition, AirNav provides a list of the airports within 35 nm and the price per gallon at all FBOs located at each airport. Another click on an FBO name takes you to a new page with services, contact information and comments about that facility. Finally, there is a link to report fuel prices, helping to keep prices current. While the ability to check fuel pricing in an area is truly useful, we wondered again, “Why the limited search capabilities?” The choices are fewer than those on the previous link.

The direct statement “See Our Great Deal Reports” on the main Aviation Fuel page is hard for any pilot who buys fuel to resist. This irresistibility is caused by the page’s ability to take a fuel type and generate a listing of the best fuel prices for it in a 50 nm radius, listed by state. You can choose the method of reporting by “long format” or “pocket format.” The former gives a detailed list including identifier, city, airport name, and price. The “pocket format” lists only the airport identifier and fuel price. The compact nature of this report makes it ideal to print out and take along on a flight.

The “Fuel Stop Planner” is a great tool for any trip where refueling will be a necessity. This tool will help you select the best route for traveling based on the situation. Two choices are given, “Shortest Routes” and “Cheapest Routes.” The first generates the most optimal routes with no consideration given to fuel costs. As AirNav states, “Typically this option is best for renters who rent wet and for people who value their time the most and are not willing to make any detour to save money.”

The “Cheapest Routes” selection, on the other hand, will find the least expensive routes with fuel stops appropriately spaced between two given airports. Obviously, this option makes sense for those pilots who are concerned with the cost of the flight.

We at SW Aviator, being inherently concerned with cost, decided to use the “Cheapest Routes” selection in helping us plan a flight from Albuquerque to Kalamazoo (a perfect flight for Bugs Bunny).

Not knowing the airport identifier for Kalamazoo International off hand, we first went to the Airport Information page at AirNav. Typing in ‘Kalamazoo’ brought up 7 airports located in Kalamazoo, the first of which was ‘AZO’, or Kalamazoo/ Battle Creek International. Next, we went back to ‘Cheapest Routes’ and were given 4 steps to complete.

Step 1:
Enter origin and destination airport identifiers. Easy enough, ‘ABQ’ and ‘AZO’

Step 2:
Select suitable types of fields, aircraft range, runway characteristics, fuel types. We selected public airports, instrument approaches not needed, a 400 nm range, a 4000 ft. paved runway and 100LL fuel.

Step 3:
Enter aircraft speed and fuel burn as well as hourly operating costs, less fuel. We entered a speed of 160 knots at 15 gallons per hour. Other hourly costs aren’t important to us on this trip.

Step 4:
Calculate cheapest routes with available fuel stops. We clicked the button.

Like magic, a new information page appeared, giving us the shortest distance to Kalamazoo followed by a list, in descending order based on the cost savings, of 50 of the cheapest routes with 2 necessary fuel stops. Included in the list is the route by airport identifier, total distance, percent increase in distance for the savings, the route’s longest leg, and the total savings.

In our example, the cheapest route was ABQ-3K1-MBY-AZO, a total distance of 1088.8 miles, 1% longer than the direct route, and the longest leg, from ABQ to 3K1, was 399.5 miles. Total coast savings for this route was $17.46. By clicking on the route, we were given more information, including the name of each airport along the route, the true and magnetic heading to each airport and the distance between each. We can also access the detailed information page for any of the airports via a direct link. In addition, a graphical map appears giving us a plotted route from Albuquerque to Kalamazoo, via Alva, Oklahoma and Moberly, Missouri. What a great aid in preplanning our flight.

The final choice under the Fuel Plan option on AirNav, is a statistical fuel price report. This link produces a charted listing of average fuel costs by region and fuel brand, providing an insight into the costs of aircraft operations in different parts of the country.

Our Opinion
Each of AirNav’s tools is useful in its own right. In combination, they give you the ability to search for information based on a wide range of known variables, and to use that information in a manner which can save both time and money on cross country or local flying. The limited drawbacks in certain parts of AirNav are heavily outweighed by the capabilities of the site as a whole.

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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibilty for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising out of it. Fly safe.