The Internet has become a valuable vacation-planning tool for millions
of travelers. Airline passengers now can set their flight itineraries
over the Web, where they can easily compare costs and choose the
package that best suits them. Then, the passengers can sit back
and let the pilots take over. But how do the pilots prepare for
the flight? A new Web site is designed to help.
AeroExplorer.com provides sample conditions and procedural data
about airports and military bases. Pilots can use this data to learn
about terrain, weather and runway conditions and airport landing
procedures. The site, which was created by Litton TASC, of Boston,
incorporates maps and data provided by the National Imagery and
Mapping Agency (NIMA) so that pilots can study aeronautical and
geospatial information over the Internet. The information is not
updated in real time, said a company spokesman, but the site, nevertheless,
provides a valuable learning and planning tool for pilots.
“The pilots get a great deal of information—information
that they would need right now,” he said.
This resource does not eliminate the need for pilots to carry onboard
the usual airport chart manuals, such as airport terminal procedure
guides, which are required by the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA). These chart manuals can range from $100 to $2,000, “depending
on geographic coverage,” said Joseph F. Ailinger Jr., a spokesman
for Litton TASC. “AeroExplorer.com is primarily a flight-planning
“The AeroExplorer.com experience supplies the aviation industry
an improved accessibility and convergence of the digital and paper
products supporting aeronautical navigation and landing procedures,
while continuing to ensure the safety of pilots who rely on them
for pre-flight planning,” said Ailinger.
The site is designed to save users money, he said. It “allows
government agencies and military services to ‘share’
the cost of [NIMA’s] Geospatial Information System with other
government agencies that want to start leveraging their geospatial
data. ... AeroExplorer.com provides the [Defense Department] a mechanism
to exchange data.”
AeroExplorer.com intends to be a one-stop site for pilots to plan
flights. Web developers at Litton TASC are using and seeking commercial
off-the-shelf technologies to enhance the technology.
“Aeronautical data can now be accessed in a truly distributed
environment using standard Web browsers [such as Netscape and Internet
Explorer], thus eliminating the need for the customer to purchase
hardware, software, and labor to develop/maintain similar flight-planning
applications,” said Ailinger.
Once a user logs onto the site, he or she can order it to retrieve
the necessary data. The user can request the following aeronautical
information: airport/heliport, runway, navaid, waypoint, airspace
boundary, special use airspace, airways, military training route,
and off-route terrain clearance altitude. Then, he or she inputs
what type of surface information to include: city, county, highway,
water, landmark, obstacles, terrain, weather. The site then retrieves
a map with the requested information.
Using the tool, I was able to retrieve runway layouts at Ronald
Reagan National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base, and I was able
to clearly see the runway layouts and decipher certain landing procedure
The site, so far, has generated more than 100,000 hits, according
to company figures. “Interest in AeroExplorer.com has spread
mainly by word of mouth,” said Ailinger.
Although the site currently is available in a ready-to-use format,
Ailinger asserted that further changes will be made.
“AeroExplorer.com is an evolving business concept,”
he said. “[It] can be considered a beta-site that allows TASC
to continue to refine the concept, its associated technologies and
market applications,” said Ailinger.
“A key mission of TASC centers around the notion of getting
the right information to the right decision-makers at the right
time. That’s exactly what AeroExplorer.com is all about. It’s
the concept of bringing together the right data and tools, so people
can get what they need more easily. And we’re excited about
the future benefits and efficiencies that this approach will someday
bring to aviation users in both the public and private sectors.”
Since the site currently is in development, potential users can
request a user name and password for free access. Eventually, Litton
TASC will try to turn the site into a money-making enterprise. This
could mean a subscription charge for users or sponsorship provided
by an airline, or, simply, revenue generated from advertising, said
The company also is seeking to form strategic alliances with partners
to increase the site’s prestige, said Ailinger. According
to the Web site, Litton TASC “is interested in working with
innovative companies focused on the design, development and manufacture
of the next generation of products and services that will enable
consumers, both large and small, to economically access navigational
and situational awareness data on demand from the World Wide Web.”
Such companies include makers of global positioning systems, weather
information systems, network providers, wireless Internet providers,
cell phone manufacturers, fixed-base operators and flight instruction
The company eventually wants to make it so that information provided
by AeroExplorer.com can be sent directly to the cockpit.