Saturday, August 31, 2013

Modern Technology - Like Fax Machines and Photocopiers

Nav Canada has awesome controllers and really pretty reliable approach facilities, but chart publication must be where they throw the people who lack the attention to detail or management skill to make it in the real time world of air traffic control. You've heard my rants about trying to buy instrument plates electronically. The most frustrating part of that experience was that no one I talked to, and I went as high as I could get people to talk to me, would even acknowledge that it was a problem that the only way to get current information on how to safely use airports all over the country was to have it mailed to a base where I wouldn't necessarily be when the mailed information arrived. They treated me as though it was bizarre that a PILOT could be in Yellowknife and need information on how to get to Thunder Bay NOW, as opposed to two weeks from now, though a mailing address in Saskatoon. Now electronic downloads of some publications are available, but until very recently, i.e. THIS YEAR, I couldn't order anything online from Nav Canada. I could look at their website to see what they sold, but in order to buy it I had to print out a paper form, calculate the cost and the taxes on each item manually--I felt like it would be out of the spirit of the thing not to do long division with a pencil and paper--and then fax in the form.

Now they have online ordering. Here's a challenge for you. Go to the Nav Canada website and try to put a Thunder Bay VFR enroute chart in your basket. It's what the Americans would call a sectional, but it's known in Canada as a VNC, a visual navigation chart. If you can do it in fewer than eight clicks and two scroll-downs, tell me how you did it. I almost gave up and thought they weren't available through the "NEW" online interface. Yeah, and look again at that online store. This isn't a legacy online sales system. This is the best they could come up with in 2013.

And then you get your chart. At first I was working in a flat bit of the world and didn't really notice, but then I unfolded it to a different section and though, "holy shuttlecraft, I have a counterfeit chart!" It looks as though it has been made on a colour photocopier with some of the colour nozzles blocked. The printing, something I have to read in low light, in turbulence, while doing other tasks, is blurry from poor colour registration. The hypsometric tints aren't crisp. Did someone spill something on this map, or is there a hill here? Nav Canada has this to say.


VFR Chart Hill Shade:

NAV CANADA has developed digital production process for the terrain layers of all VNC and VTA charts. There are limited choices in the technology that can generate digital hill shades. As well the combination of digital terrain and hill shading produces unacceptable chart clutter. As part of our analysis we reviewed VFR chart best practices from around the globe. As a result of the current technology limitations, clutter and best practices the shading will not be incorporated into the VNC and VTA charts series effective immediately.

NAV CANADA will continue to reassess shading technology as improvements occur.

To inject a bit of positive I'll make this a message to the people who did whatever they did to make my charts look so great before the digital production process came along. "Wow, your charts looked great and I could always read them easily, day or night and instantly interpret terrain. Thank you for doing such a good job of that from well before I started flying through 2012."

I'd add that thanks to new digital processing charts now have fewer errors and printing delays, but a significant number of the VFR charts I buy were behind schedule, and everywhere I look there's a NOTAm for a missing peak height or frequency correction. Is this all because kids twenty years ago were told they were all winners no matter what?


Just me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A Squared said...

Is this all because kids twenty years ago were told they were all winners no matter what?

Or is it because the incidence of errors has remained the same, but the quality control procedures have improved such that the errors are now being detected? Seems that would e another possible explanation of the phenomenon noted.

Anonymous said...

one word. foreflight. (it's amazing!)

Anonymous said...

Seems like five clicks is enough: English -> Nav Canada Online Store -> Aeronautical Charts -> VFR Navigation Charts (VNC) -> Add to Cart. No scrolling on my browser, either. I imagine navigating this on a cell phone would suck, though.

Cedarglen said...

Please accept this in the spirit of great love and affection for your nation and my several friends in the north most pat of North America. I have come to believe that Canada consists of two nations. The first is a First world country and leads the international community in countless areas of science and social/cultural development. The other Canada is a third world nation, struggling to survive and to battle its way into the first world. Obviously, you've got feet deeply planted in both worlds - and I Love your blog.

Anonymous said...

What do you expect from the government?

majroj said...

WIll you start a "Murphy's Laws of Aerial Piloting" or some such?

This can be #1.
And maybe #2.
#3 and 4, too?

Anonymous said...

In a pinch I've found skyvector pretty good.

And I order my charts from Aircraft Spruce. Same price, fast shipping, up to date etc.