Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Glass panels and Technically Advanced Airplanes (TAA)

People often want to track their time in aircraft with advanced avionics - often referred to as "glass" or "technically advanced airplanes" - for insurance, professional, or personal reasons.  In this post, I'll discuss MyFlightbook's support for this.

Like other aircraft-related attributes (complex, tailwheel, multi-engine, etc.), glass is an attribute of the aircraft used for a flight, and thus not something that you should ever need to log.  If you log time in an aircraft with a glass panel, then MyFlightbook will recognize that fact and allow you to search on it, providing a quick way to get totals in glass aircraft.

I should step back for a moment and point out that "glass" has never (to my knowledge) been formally defined, but "TAA" has; see my earlier blog post on TAA for more information about this.  Note that TAA is a strict subset of glass: all TAA aircraft MUST be glass (since it requires having a PFD and an MFD), but not all glass aircraft are TAA (e.g., a C-172 with a G1000 might not have an autopilot and thus would not be TAA)

Anyhow, most aircraft attributes that matter for logbooks are tracked at the model level because they are (essentially) immutable characteristics of that model, shared by every aircraft of that model.  E.g., a Boeing 737 is a multi-engine turbine aircraft, always; there are no piston versions, no fixed-gear 737's, and no single-engine versions (let's hope; that indicates an emergency).

Glass and TAA, however, are mutable.  I.e., going from steam to glass/TAA - or going from glass to TAA - is not an unusual transition.  For this reason, I need to have a hierarchy of capabilities, starting with the model and looking at the aircraft as needed.

To determine if an aircraft is glass or TAA, I use the following criteria:
  • If the model of the aircraft is flagged as being TAA, this means that every aircraft that has ever come off of the line is TAA, and therefore the aircraft MUST be TAA.  These aircraft cannot be upgraded on the Glass/TAA dimension.
  • If the model of the aircraft is flagged as being glass (every aircraft coming off the line has glass, but may not meet the TAA definition), then the aircraft is glass, but to determine TAA, I have to look at the aircraft itself.  These aircraft may be upgraded from glass to TAA, but obviously cannot be upgraded to glass since glass is the base configuration.
  • If the model may come from the factory in various configs, then I have to look at the individual aircraft.  For example, a C-172 S may or may not have steam gauges.  (Note: I'm not sure anybody is still buying a C-172 S with steam gauges any more, but the point is that if you tell me an aircraft is a C-172 S, I can't say with certainty if it has glass).  An aircraft of this model can be upgraded from steam to glass, or to TAA.
You can indicate whether a model is strictly glass or TAA by editing the model (requires using the website, not the iOS/Android app).  You can indicate that an aircraft has been upgraded by editing the aircraft.  In some models, the glass-only option has become so ubiquitous that it's become its own model on MyFlightbook.  E.g., there is in fact a "C-172 S/G-1000" model which is very specifically a factory-installed G-1000 version of the Skyhawk.  This is (not surprisingly) flagged as "glass only", whereas the vanilla "C-172 S" is not.

But upgrading an aircraft raises an interesting question: how to distinguish flights in the aircraft prior to the upgrade from flights after the upgrade?  When indicating an upgrade on MyFlightbook, you can optionally specify a date for the upgrade.  Flights before the upgrade will be treated as non-glass, and flights after the upgrade will be treated as glass/TAA (depending on the level of upgrade).  And if you ordered your specific aircraft with factory glass, just leave the date of upgrade blank; that will cause all flights in that aircraft to be treated as glass/TAA.

TAA time is now an option for FAA Commercial ratings in lieu of a complex aircraft; MyFlightbook can determine TAA time towards this rating based on the criteria described above.

Some people also wish to distinguish the kind of avionics that an aircraft has. I choose not to explicitly support the type of avionics because there are an unbounded numbers of possible configurations, with new ones introduced all the time.

So for this, I generally suggest making up tags like “#G1000#” or “#ENTEGRA#” and putting them into the private notes of your aircraft.  You can then search for “#G1000#” and the result would be all of your time in aircraft that are tagged #G1000#.  (Note that there’s nothing magical about the “#” prefix/suffix; I just suggest it as a convention because it avoids false positives when searching).  So if you want to see all of your glass time with G-1000 avionics, you could search for "#G1000#" and the resulting totals will reflect your G-1000 time.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

User Created Airports

If you've created airports on MyFlightbook, well, first, "thank-you" - you're helping MyFlightbook have a very thorough (and living!) airport database!

But you may notice a few changes regarding your airports recently (early December 2019).
I've finally gone in and built a tool that lets me review user-created airports that might be duplicates of existing airports. It's always a challenge as airports are closed, new airports are opened (or assigned re-used codes), or airports move from one location to another. But I also want to avoid things like "JFKIA" (an airport somebody created to be "JFK International Airport") being coincident with KJFK and getting picked up as the nearest airport by the GPS.

So I've built a tool that lets me review all user-created airports (or seaports/heliports) that might be coincident with an existing airport (seaport/heliport) and decide what to do. I have several (not-mutually-exclusive) choices in these cases:
  • If both the new and the existing airport are legitimate (E.g., "EGLL" and "LHR" are ICAO and IATA, respectively, for London Heathrow), then I will actually "absorb" the airport. I.e., I will remove your name as the creator of the airport, and it will be treated as a native airport. It will no longer show up as one of your airports.  Thank-you for your contribution!!!
  • I will typically mark one of the two codes (usually the 4-letter ICAO code), in the above scenario, as being "preferred". That way, if you're somewhere at the airport and use the app to read the closest airport, it will be equally close to multiple codes; this allows me to bias towards the code that is least likely to have ambiguity (which is why it's typically ICAO). Or, if one of the codes is an obsolete code, it can use the newer code.
  • I can also coalesce the precise latitude/longitude between the two airports, so that multiple codes are equally close.  This helps to avoid the mobile apps picking up EGLL on one side of Heathrow airport and LHR on the other.
  • d) Finally - and this is relatively rare, but I've done it with a few dozen airports - I can delete your airports. Usually this is due to a typo (e.g., I've seen codes that mix up a capital-O with a zero), but it can also be due to a made-up code when there is a legitimate ICAO/IATA code that applies. If I delete your airport, the tool will automatically map any flights that use the old code to instead use the new code. This doesn't violate any signed flights (route is excluded from the change detection), but it obviously does mean some minor changes to your logbook.
The mobile apps can't update their airport databases over the net; instead, every few months when I'm updating the mobile apps I'll update the airport database as well, so it can take a few months before these changes will show on the mobile apps. But all of the changes are live on the website today (and ongoing).