An Education In Binders, And Aviation
My first day at college, in addition to the stress of moving to a new place and leaving much that was familiar behind I faced the additional uncertainty so many frosh dread – random roommate selection.
Over the summer I’d been given a slip of paper (a carbon printout, no less) that gave the name and hometown of my prospective roommate. A handful of unreturned calls over the summer to my mystery cohabitant heightened my stress to panic level by the time move-in day came around. Thankfully, I arrived to learn of a late-summer swap that provided me with a new roommate with whom I’m still best friends today.
In addition to learning the ins-and-outs of x86 architecture from my new pal, I also learned a bit about the paper industry, specifically, binders. My roommate’s father owned a small business close by that made custom binders for businesses like law firms and also had an exclusive contract for flight chart binders for Jeppesen. I’d never heard of Jeppesen, not being a pilot, but came to realize that this contract was a huge deal to a small, family owned business. Their quality in manufacturing made them a natural choice for a piece of gear that’s standard issue and required for most pilots and was something they took great pride in, and made a good deal of revenue from.
Consumerization’s Effect On Flying… And The Fed
The fate of those binders has been on my mind lately as I read about how pilots are flocking to devices like the iPad to use as EFBs or electronic flight bags, lighter, with richer data and far less cumbersome than shuffling through traditional paper charts; a key benefit when studying a non-standard approach while underway. While the FAA is still weighing the decision to allow pilots on major commercial airliners go completely paperless with EFBs, the advent of tools like Jeppesen’s Mobile TC app for the iPad has set the course toward this in motion and will fundamentally change the way pilots go to work.
It’s even changed the way many folks will learn to fly. The Piper J-3 or “Cub” is a popular training aircraft and has been in service as such since the 1930s. A recent update, showcased at last week’s Airventure air show has been dubbed the “iCub.” The plane has been fitted with, you may have guessed, an iPad located in the gauge cluster. While the manufacturer stresses that the included iPad should not be relied upon as a primary flight instrument, the addition of functions like GPS and an a software-based artificial horizon that iPad brings by way of pre-loaded software transform the experience of flying a cub and learning to fly.
I’d be more comfortable in the iCub than relying only on what’s included in the original Cub’s cluster. Yeesh!
With the capabilities included in a sub-$1,000 piece of personal technology, the way in which an industry will function is beginning to change. Would an iPad have proved helpful in an emergency landing on the Hudson? That’s hard to say, but it’s clear that the way pilots think about flight technology is changing; similar to other professionals leading consumerization shifts, the fact that they can buy the device at a local Best Buy does not preclude them from relying on it for critical functions in their day-to-day.
The pressure from pilots to ditch the heavy bag of paper charts will likely bring the FAA along with it, which means at least three major sectors: aviation, Federal aviation legislation and suppliers of aviation tools are experiencing fundamental changes in their market due to adoption of a device that did not exist 3 years ago.
Filing A New Flight Plan
The last few years have not been kind to my friend’s company where he’s been employed since graduation, in line to take over the reigns. In spring of this year, the company was bought out having reached the limit on what it could borrow to manufacture inventory as demand for some of its core offerings dropped off sharply.
There’s a silver lining, however. My friend is lucky enough to still be working on new products under the company’s new owners. When I talked to him just this week, he told me they’re working on developing an iPad cover that looks like an old Jepp binder. He added, however, “it’s not an area we’re really comfortable in.” So, as aviation students and pilots start taking to the air differently, a small company in Western Massachusetts is taking on the task of learning to fly all over again all as a result of advances in mobile technology.