The Brazilian Air Force (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym) just made life easier for civilian and military pilots in Brazil with the release of a new app. Pilots can now file a flight plan from any location with a smartphone without having to go to an Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) desk. The FPL BR app allows pilots to create, validate, submit, and update a flight plan in real time. The new tool can be downloaded for free from the App Store and Google Play and is available for iOS and Android since October 23rd, 2017.
The Department of Airspace Control (DECEA, per its Portuguese acronym)—the oversight body for Brazilian Airspace Control—in partnership with a Brazilian company from Embraer Group developed the app to optimize customer service at AIS desks in Brazilian airports. “Brazil has an air traffic flow of 8,500 flights daily. That was the number of flight plans AIS service desks received every day throughout Brazil. It was necessary to adapt to modern times and ensure its practicality to improve the system flow,” said FAB Major General Luiz Ricardo de Souza Nascimento, chief of the Operations Subdivision at DECEA.
Pilots embraced the app with 6,000 downloads on the first day of release alone. Reviews of the FPL BR app on Android and iOS were highly positive. On a scale from 1 to 5, the FAB’s app earned scores between 4.9 and 4.6. “Anyone can download the app for free, but to submit a flight plan you need a code from the National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC, per its Portuguese acronym) or air units, in the case of military aviation,” Maj. Gen. Luiz Ricardo explained.
According to him, the app guarantees functionality and accuracy, and increases flight plan quality. “Certain fields, unless filled in correctly, won’t let the pilot submit the flight plan. When filling in the airport field, for example, the app checks that the airport the pilot indicated is in normal operations and allows the plan to go through only with the right code,” he said.
The FPL BR app is integrated to systems of the Air Traffic Control Center as well as other regulatory bodies such as ANAC, the Brazilian Aeronautical Infrastructure Corporation, and the Advisory Commission on Airfares. “You can get information on weather, airports, sunrise and sunset times at every corner of the nation, which ensures safer operations and allows for better airspace control,” Maj. Gen. Luiz Ricardo said. The interface allows users to check complete and simplified flight plans, receive messages with updates on any changes, cancellations, or delays, and notices regarding approval or denial of messages sent.
Human resource administration
Another objective of DECEA with the app is to better administer human resources at its aviation information desks. The agency foresees a gradual reduction of manual flight plans and therefore a reduction in user demand at AIS desks. “A 50 percent reduction over two years is expected, and it could be up to 80 percent at some locations,” Maj. Gen. Luiz Ricardo said. “Staff at AIS desks will be able to provide more relevant aviation information,” he added.
Before the app came out, flight plans could be filed in person or over the phone at AIS desks. “Currently, we have staff exclusively dedicated to receiving flight plans. It’s a much slower process than what can be done with the app,” Maj. Gen. Luiz Ricardo said. The first step in the development process, he said, was in 2015 when submitting flight plans online via the Aeronautical Information Service Portal became possible. The data processing success motivated DECEA to create the app. “We realized we could expand its functionality and practicality,” he said.
Tested and approved
The development process—from the time the operational need was first documented to the release of the app—took almost two years. The testing phase involved more than 2,000 civilian and military pilots who used the tool for about six months. Second Lieutenant Datiza Vitória da Silva, a pilot with 2nd Transport Squadron, Wing 15, at Recife Air Base, was one of the pilots who tested the app and noted its advantages. “The system pre-fills the fields and reduces the possibility of errors. It’s also easier to use,” 2nd Lt. Vitória said. The app, she emphasized, is available 24 hours a day. “Some missions are carried out at times and in locations that do not fit within the structure of an AIS desk, making the app’s functions essential.”
For Alessandro Rocha dos Santos, a helicopter and ultralight aircraft pilot, the app’s success is due to user and controller integration. “Aviation professionals at DECEA completed the project and understood the need to make the process easier. In addition, the opinions of pilots who tested the product were taken into account,” he said.
One of the pilots’ suggestions was to be able to copy previously created plans. “I do sightseeing flights over Rio de Janeiro, always using the same route. Before, I had to create a new flight plan for each flight. Now, I use the same one and I just change the date and time. It’s much more practical,” Rocha said.
According to Maj. Gen. Luiz Ricardo, DECEA still accepts suggestions to improve the tool over time. “Soon we will make available, either on this app or on another one, all aviation charts available in Brazil, to ease pilot navigation even more,” he said. For him, the Air Traffic Control System must constantly evolve.