Flying databases

The U.S. makes most of its aeronautical data available for free in electronic form; other countries hoard the information and charge money (sometimes, a lot of money) for a peek at it. This distinction used to matter mainly to cartographers working with giant mainframe computers, but now that almost everyone flies with a GPS (handheld or panel-mount) our airplanes have become flying databases and they’re getting hungry for information, preferably information that’s free (as in speech).

There are two projects currently underway that will not help to feed our GPS’s directly, but will, at least, give pilots a chance to share more information with each other. First, the Wikipedia has a large number of airport articles underway, and anyone can contribute to any of the articles (or start a new one). The best place to start is the Airports category, which has a top-level entry for each country, and then drill down. Coverage is uneven, representing the interests of the people who happen to have contributed so far — for example, there are currently only 7 airports listed for New Jersey, but 22 airports listed for Nunavut — and many of the airport articles are short stubs, but those are problems that more contributors can easily fix. Please go over and add information (and pictures) for airports that you know well, or start new articles. Since most of Wikipedia’s readers are not pilots, this is a great chance to educate the public about general aviation.

Another new collaborative resource is the COPA Places to Fly directory. Unlike the freeform Wikipedia, the COPA directory is set up to be highly structured, closely mimicking the layout of the Canada Flight Supplement, and its audience is clearly pilots. There’s not much there yet, but it holds the promise of some day providing a free electronic replacement for the CFS, assuming that there’s some way to export it to portable devices, and that people find some way of ensuring data quality in a collaborative environment (i.e. some kind of peer review and reputation management).

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About David Megginson

Scholar, tech guy, Canuck, open-source/data/information zealot, urban pedestrian, language geek, tea drinker, pater familias, red tory, amateur musician, private pilot.
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2 Responses to Flying databases

  1. Paul Tomblin says:

    Oh, you’ve just given me the coolest idea for replacing DAFIF data when it goes out of circulation: put the existing data up on a web site and allow anybody to edit it. Like you say, it would require some sort of peer review and reputation management, though. I wonder if anybody would bother editing it?

  2. Pingback: Land and Hold Short » Blog Archive » Canadian Airport Data in a Spreadsheet

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