Wednesday, July 25, 2012

ForeFlight Adds Advisors

The iPad has become very popular with pilots in just a few short years, due in large part to the folks at ForeFlight and their industry standard electronic flight bag application. Many companies create new software versions on a regular basis, but ForeFlight's developers have been rolling out new features at an astounding pace. The price of the ForeFlight app has remained rock-steady, something unusual in the price-gouging world of aviation-related equipment. And unlike some other EFB companies, the ForeFlight developers really seem to listen to their users, as witnessed by the new features in the latest release.

Routing, Made Easier

If you're a big-picture kind of thinker, the new route advisor in ForeFlight should be right up your alley. Say you're planning to fly IFR from Oakland to Burbank. Just enter the two airports in the new route field and they appear as colored blocks in the route advisor. This may seem like a trivial change, but have you ever tried to position the iPad's cursor on a long route field just to edit a single waypoint? 'Nuff said.

Route Advisor makes editing waypoints easier

Once you've entered your departure and destination airports, tap on the Routes button to see recent ATC routings (if any exist for your airport pairs). The routing history can go back up to a year.

Routes recently assigned by ATC

If you want to add a SID or a STAR, just tap on the Procedure button. The list shows SIDs for your departure and STARs for your destination, but instrument approach procedures for your destination are not shown.

Departure and Arrival procedures
Select an arrival, then the desired transition

Altitude Advisor

Tapping on the altitude button on the lower left side of new route field provides a quick way to choose the IFR or VFR altitude for your direction of flight that offer the most advantageous winds aloft. Simply select VFR or IFR, then Westerly or Easterly (or All), and you'll see an estimated time en route and fuel consumption. Remember these times and fuel figures do not account for fuel- and time-to-climb.

Altitude advisor could save you some $ on gas.

Diversion Planning

An earlier release of ForeFlight introduced a ruler showing the distance between two points on a chart as well as an estimated time en route and cruise fuel consumption. The new ruler is even better because it persists when you move your two fingers off the chart until you tap again on the chart. And the ruler now shows a magnetic heading, too. Nice!

New ruler makes diversions a snap

QICP Approval

For part 91 subpart K, part 121, and part 135 operators, ForeFlight's preflight briefing has now received Qualified Internet Content Provider status from the FAA. QICP doesn't make much different to the average part 91 flyer, but could be crucial to other operators.

Feature Suggestions

Since the time of departure affects the winds aloft displayed, the time button should appear higher in the route advisor hierarchy of buttons.

Everyday I encounter pilots flying WAFDOF - wrong altitude for direction of flight. ForeFlight already knows the magnetic course for the selected route, so why not automatically suggest appropriate VFR altitudes based on the initial departure course? Maybe it would help some of those confused pilots out there to fly the correct altitude for direction of flight. Couldn't hurt.

The route advisor doesn't support the concept of alternate airports, which is a bummer. However this is consistent with Garmin's G1000 and earlier GPS implementations, which do not provide any support for entering an alternate airport (except for the now discontinued CNX80/GNS480). Why this hasn't been addressed by Garmin and others is a bit of a mystery.

The Procedure feature needs to be enhanced to provide automatic chart binders for departure, destination and alternate. Jeppesen Mobile FD supports two alternates and it one of the few innovative things they've done with their app.

Time- and fuel-to-climb and time- and fuel-to-descend support is still not provided. Implementing this feature is complicated since different aircraft manufacturers have different ways of providing climb data. Many aircraft manufacturers don't provide any descent planning data. Still ...

This may be beyond ForeFlight's control since they get briefing data from DUAT, but (this just in) the NOTAM display is a mess. Until the FAA get's their act together and separates ADS-B and TFRs into separate NOTAM categories, it would be nice if ForeFlight could do some filtering. Having to wade through meaningless ADS-B boilerplate and semi-permenant TFRs just to get to changes to instrument approach procedures is an accident waiting to happen.

The briefing window needs two panes: One on the left side showing all the briefing categories and one on the right showing the content of the selected category. And it would be cool if the categories changed color to help you remember the ones you've already reviewed.

Lastly, it would revolutionary if ForeFlight could find a way to integrate the graphical display of AIRMET/SIGMET and TFRs into the briefing output. Trying to assemble a connect-the-dots, mental picture of AIRMET or SIGMET boundaries based on VOR identifiers is soooo 1960's.

Considering Upgrade or Purchase?

If you're a current ForeFlight subscriber, upgrading is a no-brainer because it's free. If you're considering the purchase ForeFlight, it's hard to see how you could go wrong. ForeFlight offers a ton of features and the improvements just keep coming. Check it out!

5 comments:

JohnOCFII said...

Nice summary of the recent Foreflight changes. I am a big fan of Foreflight (and now, the well integrated Stratus). These changes addressed some of the larger gaps in my requirements list.

I do wish the auto-routing IFR along airways would take MEA, or at least MOCA into account, and allow you to suggest that you need to fly from Minnesota to southern California with an MEA below 13500, for example.

While not part of the briefing output, per se, I really appreciate the fact that you can get nice graphical displays of AIRMETS and SIGMETS and TFRs on the map display, because, as you said, trying to track via VORs is -very- 1960s!

Ron said...

You know, I'd love to see Foreflight give JeppTC/FD a run for its money. They could certainly use the competition, and I'm sure it would drive them to put out better products.

Unfortunately, Foreflight is still U.S.-only, and we operate world-wide. Have you heard anything about them adding international data to Foreflight?

--Ron

John Ewing said...

Ron,

For domestic flying, ForeFlight is hands down a better EFB app than Jepp Mobile FD. More features, much lower price. I have the Jepp app, but I seldom use it unless the pilot i'm flying with is stuck on using Jepp charts.

As for international charting, FF has added Canadian charts. I don't know what their plans are beyond that.

David Cheung said...

Very nice update and write up. It does require iOS 5.1 or higher. It was a bit of a PITA for us curmudgeons who simply refuse to update. ;-p

toddgrx said...

since this blog... FF has added a runway proximity adviser (along with other changes/updates/additions). I used it on a recent flight and it was helpful. alas my Bose A20 does not have Bluetooth connectivity with FF to get the aural alerting. note: Bose A20 only has phone Bluetooth connection... doesn't have "audio" connection via Bluetooth. I hear Lightspeed Zulu 2 headsets do.

"Nuff"; yeah trying to insert cursor for route change to flight planning was major pain. New flight planning window MUCH easier.

I second John's request for Feature Suggestion... especially regarding graphical AIRMETS and TFRs. Seems like FF should be able to "link" these (and NOTAMs) from DUAT(S) into a nice briefing summary.