Hello Teardown readers! Welcome to another week of the Teardown Report.
Today I want to focus on what could be one of the promising new mobile developments for MRO—the new FAA mobile website at www.faa.gov/mobile.
Credit: screenshot taken from browser
In the first draft of this article, I had to catch myself before calling the site an “app,” as it actually has some of the same functionality as one of the programs available in the iTunes app store or Android Marketplace. Unlike an app, however, the site runs through your browser as any page would and does not take up any precious space on your smartphone or tablet hard drive.
According to the FAA website, the mobile site will run on iOS 4 and higher and Android 2.2 or higher. That means your iPhone 3GS, and iPhone 4 models will work, as well as Android phones like multiple Droid models, the Galaxy Nexus, HTC Evo and Samsung Captive.
As far as tablets go, the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab work with the site, also. FAA says that it hasn’t tested the system on Blackberry, Windows Mobile or WebOS platforms yet, so users with those phones may experience some problems. Considering that this is the first iteration of the mobile site, FAA’s developers will likely look at widening the scope of its supported devices for the next update.
The FAA has to satisfy a lot of different groups and individuals with varied interests, from pilots, to maintenance executives, to legislative analysts. That leads to the cumbersome task of organizing all of that information neatly so people can find it. To be fair, the FAA does a good job of executing this task, considering the amount of data at hand. Still, this hierarchy is not great for a professional in the field who only has a smartphone to look up important information on a very tight deadline. That’s where the mobile site comes to the rescue. The FAA mobile site alleviates some of that searching and smartly incorporates only the features that people would normally need to look up on the go.
How easy is the site to use? I checked out each feature on my iPhone 4, and found mixed results about how these features work. The verdict is that the current site seems more helpful for pilots and the GA market than for MRO organizations.
Press Release Archive
The actual press releases that detail news like safety ratings and new air traffic control tower are buried below a “News and Updates” tab that offers such information as the FAA giving Santa the green light to develop presents within U.S. airspace. These announcements are interesting and fun additions for the most part, but I think that the more breaking news should be up top. What about those recent releases about new airworthiness directives? Those announcements are nowhere to be found on this tab, at least to what I can experience here. That information has always been a bit tricky to find unless you are on an e-mail listserv, and it appears that it will remain that way for now.
Photo credit: FAA
This feature allows the user to look up aircraft N-numbers to see detailed information such as registration, aircraft manufacturer and model. Users need to add the N-number manually, and there are instructions that pop up when you touch the blue text that says “N-number format” for what the submission should look like. The site will first say if the number is valid, which is helpful. Overall, this feature looks helpful.
U.S. Airport Status and Delays
Clicking on this tab pops up a link with delays classified into the categories of “airport closure, ground stoppages, ground delays and arrival/departure. If there are delays, a red box with the number of delays will pop up next to each category. The user can click on each category with more information about specific airports. For example, I see that there’s a delay at LGA because of fog right now, and it should last 31-45 minutes. I think that this could be handy for both regular fliers as well as flight crew or other airline employees.
Advisory Circular (AC) Lookup
Photo Credit: FAA
This feature allows users to look up advisory circulars, which would be beneficial for technicians, engineers and mechanics. The downfall to this search function seems to be that one must know the exact AC numbers when searching, as there is no real way to see recently cancelled or amended ACs. On the FAA website, you can browse ACs by topic or FAR part, and that feature is extremely helpful for someone like me who hasn’t memorized all of them. But perhaps looking up the ACs by number is easier for mechanics? Readers, what would you say?
Flight Standards District Office Locator
Photo Credit: FAA
This feature is pretty simple. The site will integrate with your phone or tablet to find your current location and then direct you to the nearest FSDO office. I can’t really see anything that needs to be changed with this feature.
Wildlife Strike Reporting
Photo Credit: FAA
This feature seems to work well. The site will bring you to another link where you can input and submit information about a wildlife strike, or you can update an existing report. This also seems like a helpful feature for pilots.
Overall, I think the FAA is on the right track. They have created an easy-to-use mobile web site that functions on most types of devices. Nonetheless, I would like to see the press releases reflect safety information for recent ACs, ADs and SBs and news in a more timely fashion.