Running aviation operations in an organization like MAF requires a lot of information to be accessed, computed, and logged. A lot! There are passenger manifests, maintenance records, aviation operations manuals, airport strip charts, aircraft manuals, procedure checklists, weight and balance tables, and maps. Those are just some of the ones I know of, and I’m not a pilot! You can imagine the pages, and pages of references and forms that it takes to keep the planes flying.
In MAF’s eastern D.R. Congo program we are starting to make the transition to an “electronic flight bag” system, which will leverage technology to reduce the pilots’ paper load, and centralize information flow. While we’re just in the early stages of the project, the idea is that the process will work something like this:
Each of our pilots has an iPad. Flight documents are generated by our flight scheduler using Wingman, a flight operations planning tool developed by MAF. These documents are stored in a shared folder on our server. Additional documents including manuals, airport strip charts, airstrip photos, and other important references are available in electronic form.
In the morning before a pilot takes off on his first flight he connects to the wireless network with his iPad, and synchronizes it with the file server. In mere seconds he has all the flight documents he needs for the day. He taps a link, and pulls up the latest weather satellite photos. Maybe he even fires off a last-minute email before heading to the plane.
Throughout the day, all the flight documents are filled out electronically. Signatures are captured by signing on the iPad touchscreen with a finger or stylus. If an airstrip chart needs to be updated, a proposed change can be annotated in the document. If the plane has a mechanical problem, the pilot can type in a search term and quickly find the relevant section of the manual.
At the end of the day the pilot connects his iPad to the wireless network, and syncs again. All the completed documents are sent to the server where everyone who needs to work with them has access, and where they will be backed up.
You might be wondering what the point is in all this. Well, it’s our hope that by implementing new information technologies–wireless networks, servers, databases, and iPads—our operations will become more streamlined and efficient. With the electronic flight bag system in place pilots will spend less time doing paperwork, information will be more easily accessible, and records will be stored securely. It will also free up a bit of weight and space in the cockpit. Ultimately we hope it helps us to better serve the partners we fly, and the people of Congo.