|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 cant help but feel the pressure to surf. Everybodys 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? Im glad you asked. The Internet gives us the ability to search through information from an almost inconceivable number of worldwide sources. This inherent aspectthe 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 wont quit and the planes 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, youre 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 sites 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.
What was that airport down by Silver City that we flew into a few years ago? Do they sell mogas in Clovis? Whats the closest airport to Cuchillo?
The answers to these questionsand just about any other a pilot can conjure up relating to airportscan be found right there on that posphor-lit tube on your desk. The basics of Airport Information are summed up by the sections 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 AirNavs 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 mapbut 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 dont know the identifier? you mumble. Thats fine. Just type in the airport name instead, or even part of the name. Lets say you know that youre 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 airports information page, and a listing of the city each airport serves.
If you dont 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 areaby distance from the previously specified pointthat 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.
The Navaid Information area has a much less specific search interface than the Airport Information page. The interface allows a search only by exact entriesno 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 wheres 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, heres 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!
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 listwith linksof 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 pages 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.
Enter origin and destination airport identifiers. Easy enough, ABQ and AZO
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.
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 arent important to us on this trip.
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 routes 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.
Each of AirNavs 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.