The EFB is state-of-the-art, but MetService is state-of-the-archaic

11 June 2014 / by Brian Mackie / Costs, Governance, Safety
AvPlan in action, versus MetService inaction. (Picture courtesy of AvSoft)

AvPlan in action, versus MetService inaction. (Picture courtesy of AvSoft)

The Electronic Flight Bag, or EFB, has become so commonplace in cockpits around the world that almost everyone with a knowledge of, or interest in, aviation is an enthusiast.

For the benefit of those with neither (such as the Chairperson of MetService, Sarah Smith, and the Minister of Transport, Gerry Brownlee), we have included a picture of one.

It’s an iPad (or sometimes an Android tablet device) and – with EFB software installed – it removes

♦ a printed AIP manual weighing about 2 kg
♦ a set of large and unwieldy printed charts
♦ a printed weather forecast and
♦ a hard copy of the NOTAMs

This 21st Century innovation is now considered so important to cost- and time-saving for all aviators (as well as making their operations far safer) that it is now required equipment in many international airliner cockpits.

Our own Airways Corporation says it is committed to the EFB concept. It has licensed AIP access to commercial EFB developers so that they can integrate the AIP in their applications. Among them are Australia’s AvPlan and OzRunways, and the Swiss-based Air Navigation Pro. GAA also understands from Airways that it would very much like to include MetFlightGA weather forecasts on its site, too, but can’t do this because State Owned Enterprise MetService owns the forecast and its fellow State Owned Enterprise, Airways, won’t pay for it*.

Dear Reader, that’s the failure of joined-up government and efficient SEOs neatly summed up.

Although GAA has objected to Airways’ behaviour in making it almost impossible for an unlicensed, non-commercial developer of even a simple macro to provide users easy and free access to AIP data, there is no doubt that its commercial partners are doing a very good job of offering all aviators a hugely improved source of planning information – and at highly competitive prices.

A hugely improved source of information, that is, apart from the New Zealand Weather.

New Zealand general aviators have several choices of EFB software designed for our environment, of which the leading candidates are OzRunways and AvSoft’s AvPlan, both originating from Australia. It would be unfair to include the highly popular AirNav Pro, because that’s a global generic product whose developers can’t be expected to focus quite so well on our marketplace.

This story is not a product review, although it began as one. It has to do with the weather.

What I noticed, as I explored AvPlan, was the difference between its downloaded weather, automatically applied to a flight plan, and what I was getting from MetFlightGA. The winds were clearly different, so where was AvPlan accessing the weather?

An email exchange with AvPlan Support rapidly supplied the answer.

AvPlan (and probably OzRunways) does not access MetFlight weather forecasts because MetService charges for them. AvSoft’s Bevan Anderson said: “AvPlan does not link directly to MetService. TAFs and METARs for the four main airports are available from other sources, and we use a global forecast model for winds aloft.”

The Australian version of AvPlan accesses weather forecasts from Airservices, because GA forecasts in Australia are free. And in Australia, filing a flight plan costs nothing as well. Which is why AvPlan for NZ has an option to File a Flight Plan (New Zealand aviators are advised to avoid this $10 button).

So there it is, in a nutshell. Buy AvPlan for $99 a year (which includes the VNCs and the full AIP) and you get one of the finest flight planning aids in the world, on your iPad; but minus the New Zealand aviation forecasts (and an important piece of functionality) because Gerry Brownlee’s daft dogma of User Pays and MetService’s ruthlessness in extracting money from private pilots makes no commercial sense to either us or the folks who wrote this EFB software.

But there’s more…

We understand that Airways doesn’t like the current arrangements and would prefer GA weather forecasts to be returned to its IFIS website. We also understand that CAA Director Graeme Harris is uncomfortable with the charging regime and would like it to change.

But what are the bean-counters at MetService doing?

They’ve just announced a 4 percent increase in the MetFlightGA subscription, forcing it north of $100 a year! In doing so, they claimed that this was the first increase in nine years, and that few others could claim to have maintained charges at 2005 levels.

The problem with this claim is that MetFlightGA was free to us, until August 2011…

* Plus ça change… Des Lines recalls: This impasse is reminiscent of an incident that occurred back in the 80s just after Air New Zealand Mk1 and NAC merged. The new management structure decided that to achieve efficiency, they would split the company up into separate “business units” that would be run on a “commercial” basis.

Not long after this happened, a B737 became unserviceable in Dunedin with a minor defect that required an engineer to fix and sign off. The call came through from Airline Ops to domestic engineering in Christchurch, to send an engineer down on the next scheduled flight. In the past, an engineer only had to front up with his toolbox and a free-of-charge ticket would be written for him to travel to Dunedin. However, the rules had now changed and when the engineer phoned his manager from the check-in counter to say that he was being asked to pay a full commercial fare before he would be issued with a ticket, his manager told him to return to headquarters.

The flight arrived in Dunedin and no engineer disembarked. A panic call was put through to Engineering HQ in Christchurch to find out what had happened to the engineer who was going to fix the Boeing, still sitting on the tarmac. The engineering manager replied that he considered a full commercial fare was far too expensive and in order to keep his business unit profitable, he was sending the engineer down by train, which was going to be a much more cost-effective option.

The problems of inter-business unit charges were rapidly sorted after that!

This analogy has stark similarities to the present debacle we have over free MetFlightGA access. Individual SOEs are putting their commercial imperatives ahead of public safety issues, and this is unacceptable nonsense.