Jeppesen is tapping its many resources to create a new single-source software solution combining flight planning, trip planning, runway performance, weight-and-balance, crew scheduling and management and reporting. The new product is called Jeppesen Operator, it is available now and the company is demonstrating it here at NBAA 2016 (Booth 1596).
The Operator project started more than six years ago, when Mike McCready joined the company and took a look at all of Jeppesen’s varied products to try to figure out how they could be developed for the future. Jeppesen has offered flight planning for decades, having purchased Lockheed’s DataPlan service in 1989, and it also is in the international trip-planning business, in addition to publishing aeronautical data and, more recently, developing mobile apps to display that data.
“This was a grand opportunity to write a small white paper,” McCready recalled. “I called it ‘flight department in a box.’ I looked at all the Jeppesen services and products and realized that Jeppesen could be in a position to bring a single-source solution [to the market]. It’s a platform to run a flight operation.”
To gauge industry interest and obtain feedback, Jeppesen formed a customer advisory board in 2011. “We started refining what the product should look like,” he said, “and what the software should do.”
The next step was to make sure there were enough internal resources to make the new product possible. Then, he said, “Over the years there was lot of work, and interviews. The customer advisory board gave us a lot of direction.” The board included Part 91 flight departments and Part 135 passenger and cargo operators.
Jeppesen’s international trip planning (ITP) team was key to a fundamental aspect of Operator: supporting schedulers and dispatchers who can do much of this work themselves, provided they are given the right tools. The software did need to be informed by the ITP team, but the software’s users should not be dependent on the team to set up and release flights for their operations.
“We found a way of doing that through using flight planning,” said McCready. When creating a flight plan, all the requirements of the flight must be met, so Operator then creates a queries database and from that a checklist for the trip, he explained. The checklist outlines items that the user–perhaps a pilot in a small operation or a scheduler or dispatcher–must either obtain or check. For example, an international trip may require a navigation permit. Operator not only specifies this requirement, but also includes information that will help the user satisfy the requirement, such as contact information for securing the navigation permit.
Behind the scenes, however, the Jeppesen ITP team stands ready to assist. “We know it’s going to take people time to get comfortable with that, and we built in a concierge button,” McCready said. “We want to provide the expertise of the team that you have access to through software.” Jeppesen understands that some operators may fly infrequently to a complicated international destination such as China and need help, or a large charter operator may be busy and wants to offload some of this work. “We still have our ITP team there to support you,” he said. “We built that functionality into the system to make it do-it-yourself. But we’re not going to forget you.”
Jeppesen isn’t trying to replicate what other software providers have created for operations and trip-planning software, and one of the big differentiators is a tie-in with BoldIQ, the creator of the Astro platform and its Solver optimization engine. “We’ve worked with them and helped them refine Astro,” he said, “and we’re in the process of building in the optimization piece so we can provide the Solver module for our customers. It will still have a single user interface, but Astro and Solver run in the background.”
Solver helps operators optimize resources (aircraft, crew, etc.) to make the operation as efficient as possible and also to help recover when something unexpected happens, such as an AOG, sick pilot or other unplanned event. “It’s quite amazing,” McCready said, “and is saving customers 10 to 20 percent due to increased utilization.”
The BoldIQ features won’t be available in the initial release of Operator and should be available next year, but in any case, customers will be able to subscribe to Operator and all of its capabilities, or pay more for Operator plus the BoldIQ features. The runway performance, weight-and-balance and other Operator features are all Jeppesen-developed. Operator will also integrate with third-party programs such as Camp Systemsmaintenance tracking and financial systems.
While Operator is cloud-based and will run via a browser on any computer, Jeppesen is planning to tie apps such as Mobile Flitedeck together with Operator and develop other apps to enhance its performance. “It’s all about making sure we’re connected through the whole process,” he said. “How to bring flight planning, runway performance, weight-and-balance, and make those talk with the trip-planning database so it’s easy to use. You don’t have to be a six-year-trained international trip planner. You’ll be able to be trained and execute trip plans and fly around the world.”