[Avionics Today 11-26-2104] The Caribbean islands region can present some difficult weather-related flying environments, but aircraft connectivity is helping pilots in the region deal with those challenges everyday. Virgin Islands-based charter carrier Bohlke International's veteran aircraft fleet is proof that adding a tablet and Internet connectivity to legacy planes can provide enhanced situational awareness benefits.
Bohlke International Airways G100 pilot Sam Black uses his iPad in the cockpit. Photo: Lindsay Kammerzelt.
Bohlke International’ charter fleet built for Caribbean conditions such as short runways and severe weather. The company uses a Gulfstream G100 for international trips, a Citation II for regional flights, and both a Mitsubishi MU2 and a King Air B200 for island hopping. While these might not be among the newest and most technologically advanced jets on the market today, a boost of connectivity has them keeping up with the competition.
"Having the Internet and being able to connect and see what type of weather you might be dealing with on a flight is what I find to be beneficial," said William Bohlke Jr., president and chief pilot for Bohlke International Airways. Bohlke runs the day to day operations of his family-owned business while serving as an aircraft commander for the Puerto Rico Air National Guard.
Bohlke International's Gulfstream G100 features onboard satellite connectivity using Thrane & Thrane's Aviator 200 solution and Rockwell Collins Pro Line 4 avionics suite in the cockpit.
"From a piloting perspective, all the other airplanes that I fly, including the C-130s in the Air Force, there is no Internet. So now, with the Internet, the big thing for me is if I need to look at a satellite picture or something like that as far as weather at the next destination because there’s no XM or any of that stuff down in the islands. You can’t get that. So the real-time ability to see what the weather is looking like at your next destination, that’s a key feature," said Bohlke.
While applications and tablet Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) software are available today to help enhance the pilot's ability to plan for poor weather conditions in real time, such as ForeFlight, the Bohlke International Airways chief pilot keeps to the basics. This is mostly the result of the limited services available in the Caribbean region.
The Apple Wi-Fi transmitter box used by Bohlke for connectivity. Photo: Lindsay Kammerzelt
"We just go to a general weather site that we use, general NOAA-type weather. It is kind of a crude way of doing it, but it works. Foreflight, for example, does not cover the Virgin Islands," said Bohlke. "I use a common-sense approach to utilizing what I have at my digression. I could check the current METAR on a general aviation website because I’m connected; I can check the radar because I’m connected. That type of thing is the benefit you have from connectivity. Even when you’re a few hours from your destination, you can go to FlightAware and see if there are delays or see what is going on. It just allows you to access that information that normally — 10 years ago — would have been impossible."
Bohlke said the private carrier's next major aircraft technology investments will most likely be in the form of a more advanced satellite-based connectivity system and Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) Out avionics to comply with the FAA's 2020 NextGen equipage mandate.
"When we move into a bigger plane we’re going to be spending many millions of dollars on that plane and it’s going to make us go get a better and bigger system. We have not done that research yet as to what type of system we’re going to do," said Bohlke. "One day on the King Air — that’s a candidate for the Garmin G1000 upgrade — I’d like to do that. The Garmin upgrade saves a lot of weight and brings it into the 21st century so to speak."
The chief pilot also mentions that flying legacy aircraft helps keep his skills sharp, giving him the ability to fly a wide range of aircraft types. Adding connectivity to Bohlke International's fleet has kept him somewhere in the middle of the next generation technology while learning how to maximize the capabilities of the fleet that he's working with.
"We don’t have a really high tech fleet, but with the technology that we have, if you utilize any bit of technology you can maximize it. I fly C130s in the Air Force that don’t even have a GPS," said Bohlke. "When I go from that to a Pro Line 4 its like jumping in a space ship because you have all this other information. The beauty of it is, I don’t get complacent based upon my technology, I appreciate what I have and work with what I have on that given day. I’ve been able to work with old stuff and then sort of grow with the new stuff, such as the iPad connectivity, at the same time."