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‘AOPA Airports’

The evolution of AOPA’s new online airport directory

Prior to the launch of the new online airport directory—AOPA Airports—there was the old online airport directory. Just as it had done in years past, that directory delivered current, accurate data from the FAA, plus information from airport and business managers.

Prior to the launch of the new online airport directory— AOPA Airports—there was the old online airport directory. Just as it had done in years past, that directory delivered current, accurate data from the FAA, plus information from airport and business managers. It was still an application that pilots could use and appreciate, but hiding beneath the surface was a technologically limited database.

In 2009, as AOPA fielded an increasing number of requests for enhancements and additions to the old online airport directory, we realized that vast opportunity was eluding us. Pilots wanted more images, more safety information, fewer clicks to get to information, convenient accessibility, and new features that other airport directories were already introducing. These were all things the current directory could not accommodate—at least not without major renovation to its underlying systems.

Shortly after this realization, AOPA formed a project team to redesign the airport directory. Beyond the new goal of flexibility, it was essential to maintain all the key features of the original directory, such as the kneeboard format, member comments—and the heart of the application, the information. The goal of the directory has always been to present accurate, current information about airports and businesses. It accomplished that task. The objective of the new directory was to do the same, but add flexibility that would accommodate the ever-changing needs of pilots, now and in the future.

To start mapping the vision of the new online airport directory, the project team sought advice from AOPA members, AOPA staff pilots, airport managers, and business managers. There were interviews, focus groups, competitive analysis, and surveys, and when all the results had been compiled, a picture of the future directory emerged.

It is no small endeavor to completely disassemble and rebuild the most comprehensive database of aviation businesses and airports. The technical part of the redesign had to streamline and rework the ways in which we store and manage data from various sources—the FAA, airport managers, business managers, and pilots. It was essential that the database could present multiple sources of information to pilots, such as traffic pattern altitudes from both the FAA and airport managers, plus new information that was over and above what the old directory offered. This was part of the flexibility goal.

The visual portion of the redesign addressed both aesthetics and usability. Each page needed to put safety and decision cues up front. Furthermore, because pilots told us they wanted simplicity—fewer clicks to get to directory information—the design team needed to find a happy medium between having lots of information presented on one page, and avoiding too much clutter.

On April 14, after months of research, design, and development work, AOPA Airports debuted on AOPA Online.

One of the new online directory’s major design features—convenient accessibility—was accomplished through the omission of the AOPA member login requirement. A Web visitor can access AOPA Airports, whether or not he or she is logged in to

Nearly all of the features of the old airport directory were carried over to AOPA Airports. One notable exception—member comments—will be added back within the next several months. The MyProcedures feature of the old directory was replaced with a similarly functioning Airport Favorites list. Favorite airports are displayed on the main search page when an individual is logged into AOPA Online and has selected favorite airports.

The ever-popular kneeboard format was enhanced to prevent airport images from overlapping text—a problem reported in the past with some airport listings. The new directory also introduces the ability to print all approach procedures for one or more airports with one click, and on one, multi-page PDF document. This feature eliminates the need for users to click and print each approach individually.

The main AOPA Airports search page functions similarly to a Google search and is somewhat different from the old online directory’s. Visitors to the page may key in an airport identifier, city, airport name, or any other search term and hit Go. To find very specific criteria, there is an Advanced Search option.

Airport and SkyVector diagrams were transferred to AOPA Airports, but they were enlarged for ease of use. Additionally, Google satellite, terrain, and map imagery was added (where available) to airport pages, because of pilots’ requests.

Another new addition to the airport page is a METARs and TAFs chart. Based on pilot feedback, the METAR TAF window was designed to highlight important information about current and forecast conditions at or near an airport. The default setting displays reports in plain language. Pilots can view raw text by deselecting the plain language option, which is a checkbox in the upper right of the chart. With plain language checked, visual cues are included to help users quickly assess conditions. VFR is highlighted in green, while MVFR is blue, and IFR is red. If wind speed or gusts exceed 20 knots, numbers are highlighted in gold. If they exceed 30 knots, they are highlighted in red. This color scheme is also used to highlight diminishing visibility and low ceilings. Web site managers can embed the AOPA Airports METAR and TAF window on their own sites by clicking on Embed This link, located in the upper right of the chart. The widget is customizable in size and reporting station search radius. It also offers a link back to the selected facility on AOPA Airports.

The new online airport directory— AOPA Airports—is an application that bridges the gap between old fundamentals and modern flexibility. The older database was replaced with a system equipped to react quickly to future user requests. From the presentation of the page to everything supporting it behind the scenes, AOPA Airports is a completely redesigned application. It was made to meet the needs of pilots, AOPA members, aviation business managers, airport managers, and new audiences, now and in the future. Feedback, especially from AOPA members, will continue to drive the evolution of the online airport directory. Please visit the website to view AOPA Airports. Feedback is encouraged; e-mail us today.

The AOPA Airports print directory will ship in late 2010. All orders must be received by October 1, 2010, online. The price of the AOPA Airports print directory is $39.95. However, the exclusive AOPA member price is $19.95.

Jennefer Price is the AOPA Airports manager. E-mail the author at [email protected] .

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