“FDX1127, cleared for the VOR approach, runway 12.”
Looking at his laptop where approximately 13 tabs related to flight planning are strewn about his browser, the captain makes a frantic dash for his approach charts. He had planned on the ILS approach and must now take his eyes off of the sky at a critical point in flight to find the charts he needs.
There must be a better way...
Daniel Hawton and Rahul Parkar agree. Together, they have created AirCharts.org, a service which provides automatically updated charts for several countries around the world. Hawton explains that “AirCharts, while still early in its age, offers the internet community a completely free resource exceeding 26,000 charts for flight simulation purposes. You can fly in many developed areas and access the charts in one place versus scouring five different web pages for what you need.”
Inspiration for AirCharts.org came from an initial frustration with the VATSIM (Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network) Chart Finder which required the author to manually update their charts and only covered the US and portions of Canada. Hawton and Parkar, having met as virtual air traffic controllers in the Jacksonville ARTCC on VATSIM, created AirCharts.org with the idea that people can enjoy up-to-date charts in many other regions of the world, sometimes the day they are published.
Simply put, the idea works and continues to expand into other areas of flight simulation including virtual air traffic control. “Presently, AirCharts.org features a free Information Display System and a training system including automated tests [and] roster tracking” stated Hawton when asked about AirCharts.org's services. “I maintain the servers upon which AirCharts and its various services run as well as design and build the front-facing sites. Parkar is a developer. He also helps build and maintain the servers and [serves as] an advisor to the project overall, acting as one of the main marketing drives to get the word out about AirCharts.”
Their teamwork also lead to the creation of the Leroy utility. Initially designed for controllers, it is a program which allows pilots to quickly grab a chart without opening a browser or searching through tabs on their internet browser. “The idea for Leroy came about during a visit to Jacksonville Center's facility in Hilliard, FL”, explains Hawton. He observed a controller quickly pull up a chart needed to send an aircraft directly to an Initial Approach Fix. “The speed at which he was able to pull the chart up lead to me paying close attention to its use and replicating it for use online.”
Hawton and Parkar continue to expand AirCharts.org. Hawton states, “We're always looking for places where automation with chart-grabbing is possible.” Work has also been started for “Soar”, a project designed specifically for VATSIM which will create free-to-use DLL files to allow non-VATSIM projects to more easily interface with flight simulation software.
AirCharts.org is looking for individuals who might be interested in helping the service grow. “Our primary areas that we need help with is developing charts”, states Hawton when asked how people can assist AirCharts.org. “Some areas lack publicly-available charts, for instance, a large majority of the Caribbean. I don't have the time to devote to hand-developing charts, so people with that ability would be greatly appreciated.” Donations and word-of-mouth praise also serve to keep AirCharts.org successful. “Currently, out site averages anywhere from 300 to 500 unique visitors per weekday, topping well over 1,000 on the weekends.”
Thanks to Hawton and Parkar's work on AirCharts.org and Leroy, FDX1127 doesn't need to break a sweat the next time air traffic control throws him for a loop. A few simple mouse clicks and the VOR approach chart is at hand. Thanks to AirCharts.org, another virtual pilot safely lands.