It's easy to forget that only 10 to 15 years ago, most of the computerized aviation tasks we've grown used to were either non-existent or done with a greaseboard, an E6-B or over the telephone with a human being on the other end. There may be those who still romanticize that era, but most folks in this business wouldn't -- couldn't -- get through a day at work without using one or more of the products and services you'll find in this report.
Officials from the FAA and aviation groups continue to fault each other for the imminent gridlock of the U.S. ATC system. Yet, at the RTCA's annual meeting held just outside Washington, D.C., in October 1999, several hundred experts on the subject were cautiously upbeat on the future of ATC.
The power and capability of electronic commerce over the Internet is exploding. One can purchase virtually anything -- books, music, antiques, groceries, vacations, prescription drugs, cars -- online. You can even reduce the fine on a speeding ticket by attending an online driving school.
One of the leading avionics themes of the 1990s was the rapid transformation from heavy electro- mechanical analog displays to large, lightweight, colorful digital displays. Industry observers now say that the major theme for avionics in the next decade will be the full integration of affordable and practical data-link delivery technologies and applications into those same cockpits.
As Internet theorist Nicholas Negroponte predicted in his 1993 book Being Digital (Vintage Press), more and more products made of atoms are going to be transformed into digital products that can be delivered electronically.
Photograph: Honeywel/Racal MCS-3000 system. Not so long ago, you could settle into the confines of an aircraft seat and know you were beyond the reach of the rest of the world for a few hours. For some that was a perk, but for others it became a nuisance -- and so the airborne telephone was born. Over the last two decades, telephones in the cockpits and cabins of business aircraft from Bonanzas to Boeings have become commonplace.
Measurable progress has been made toward the development of an industry-wide accident/ incident information sharing system. In early November 1998, more than 200 individuals representing a cross-section of the global aviation community gathered in Long Beach, Calif., to participate in the third GAIN (Global Aviation Information Network) World Conference.
Since it began in 1981, the FAA's effort to modernize its aging ATC systems has grown to fantastic proportions. The multi-billion-dollar effort to improve the capacity, efficiency and safety of the U.S. National Airspace System has experienced mind-boggling cost overruns and schedule re-writes. The ordeal has caused many in this industry to wonder if the agency is capable of accomplishing what has been described as ``changing a tire on a car going 100 miles an hour.''
Despite some occasional Wall Street zigs and zags, your company's business is booming. Still, your annual utilization isn't anywhere near what it could be, and the pressure's on to cut costs. ``Hey, let's charter!'' someone helpfully suggests.
Illustration: Diagram: A range of data relay are being evalutated for use with the FAA's Free Flight concept, soon to be tested by pilots and controllers in Alaska and Hawaii. Here, an advanced Mode S transponder being developed by Honeywell would be used to relay various types of information. As summer was winding down, Congress was still deliberating Fiscal 1999 funding approval for Flight 2000, one of the FAA's pet projects.
If you thus far have managed to avoid extensively relying on PCs, fax machines, cellular phones, portable digital assistants and the like in the aviation part of your life, your predigital days are,well, numbered. The familiar confines of most cockpits are about to be transformed into airborne information centers.
If you're like most people, you've seen the term "Aeronautical Telecommunications Network" (ATN) in aviation publications for some time.
The next decade will see a profusion of airborne, datalink-based applications designed to work with avionics being developed for the aeronautical telecommunications network-the so-called Internet of the airways. One of the first ways ATN is being introduced to business aviation is by providing a whole new range of weather products to the cockpit. What's more, the stuff is here already.
Accurate record-keeping seems to go hand-in-hand with aviation. In business aviation, keeping track of time and costs is almost a given-especially when the flight department is under the scrutiny of company officers who are less-than-enthusiastic supporters of operating a large, airborne capital investment.
Maintenance scheduling and record-keeping isn't one of the more glamorous aspects of operating business aircraft. Nevertheless, it has spawned more than a few products designed to make this task easier. There's scarcely an aisle at aviation trade shows without a new maintenance management application.
The days of cumbersome, file-drawer-based aircraft record-keeping are rapidly disappearing as the capabilities of CD-ROMs (and soon, digital versatile discs, or DVDs), the Internet and relational database engines become better understood.