(September 2011) No matter how much we might want to deny it, this age in which we live is defined by new technologies, new behaviors and new ways of looking at and interacting with the real world. Nowhere is this clearer than in the fast-changing world of publishing, where the model for how we deliver our content to our customers has irrevocably changed. If we’ve learned anything these tumultuous past 20 years, it’s that unless we change, we’ll be relegated to the status of MySpace and AOL. If you’re unfamiliar with the references, you might want to search for their profiles on Facebook.
The changes to aviation are only slightly less extreme than those in publishing, but only because the devices in which we achieve flight are blunt physical machines made to bend air into lift and heat into propulsion. (This fact delights me to no end, by the way.)
Wayfarers of all descriptions — and that, at heart, is what we pilots are — have always needed a way to know where they were going and what kinds of monsters they might encounter inhabiting the depths along the way. When legend and word of mouth could no longer provide the best answers to our fears and questions, maps and charts were created to help us make the voyage, if not in complete safety then at least with some added peace of mind.
In aviation, the industry that supplies us with such charts was pioneered in the 1930s by one Elrey Jeppesen, a survey, charter, mail and airline pilot who obsessively jotted down the details — the terrain, the location of railroad tracks and cities and bodies of water — of his flights. He also developed approach procedures for many of the airports into which he regularly flew. Capt. Jeppesen’s first little books cost 10 dollars a copy and kept countless pilots out of the trees. They were such a hit and their value was so obvious that before long the airlines (as parsimonious then as now) were among his first and best customers. It wasn’t for many years that Capt. Jeppesen quit the day job to concentrate on his chart business, but by then the term Jepp was long synonymous with aviation chart.
I don’t know how many decades he was in business before Mr. Jeppesen first used the term data, but today that’s what the business is all about. It’s not a printing business or a publishing business or a mapping business. It’s a data business, and today the folks who run the company (which is owned in a supportive and smartly hands-off way by Boeing) call themselves a data company. How that data gets collected and later disseminated is the nuts and bolts of the business. The mission is getting the best data and then figuring out how to turn that into useful information. And no one is better at this than Jeppesen.