Letting Go Of Those Glorious Jeppesen Binders


I was doing one of my periodic office de-clutters this week and up on the far northwest corner of one shelf, I found some interesting artifacts. Like an archeologist dusting off pottery shards, there was the last of my Jeppesen binders and a stack of paper charts, some dating to 1997.

I can’t remember when I bought the last one, but it can’t have been after 2005, since none are newer than that. I’m not normally given to flights of nostalgia, but I felt a twinge of missing it. Without getting too gauzily romantic about it, charts and maps really are a form of art and if you doubt this, I would point out that in the bumpy transition to digital chart products, they look exactly the same as they do in paper. They just don’t work as well.

By that, I mean this: When displayed on a tablet, either an approach plate or an enroute chart, the tablet forces a conformance to the limitations of the technology. For an enroute, you have to scroll around and then finger scale to see what you need. On a plate, you have to do the same. Tablets work better for plates than for enroutes.

I was flying some approaches Friday morning using WingX Pro and even though I’m not completely current on it, I had no problem at all pulling up the plates and scrolling to the data. On a paper plate, you can scan the entire thing at a glance, while the digital version requires—count them—five or six individual actions, including the scrolling and scaling. Time wise, it’s faster to find a plate on the tablet, but busier. Paper enroutes were always a nuisance for having to fold them to the area of interest. On the tablet, you exchange that hassle for the scrolling/pinching chore. Big-screen panel mounts, like the Garmin G3000, have finally nailed this chart thing down, but it has taken the better part of decade to do it. Since I’ll never own an airplane with point something in the price, all I can do is gawk at those systems.

I’d never go back to paper because of the convenience of not carrying around all that stuff. I feel like I’m fighting a constant rear guard action against clutter in general and in exchange for cables, chargers and mounts, tablets help with that. A little.On the other hand,in the cockpit, at least for plates, I can’t discern that I have a preference for either paper or digitial in the same way I have no preference for steam gauges or glass. By now, they look functionally similar to my eye.

What I miss about paper, though, is the tactile qualities; the smell of fresh ink on a new chart and the peculiar odor of the leather Jeppesen used in its binders. It’s a pungent, musty, earthy smell redolent of flying in clouds and sailing down to ILS minimums in a way that never happens to me in Florida. iPads have no such qualities and no smell at all, just sterile pixels and Siri’s brain-dead excuse for a digital helper.

What I don’t miss is carting all that crap around in a big bag and the dreary process of leafing all the revisions into the binders for airports I would never visit. Remember how we used to do that? And we did it because there was a nagging worry that if every chart wasn’t up to date, we were somehow unprepared, sinning against the sanctity of FAR 91.103.The more I learned about how charts were made, the less I thought that.

I was arguing with myself about whether to keep some of this old paper for nostalgia’s sake. Or maybe a binder. In the end, I tossed it all to make room for a box of the GoPro accessories that now make an ascetic life nothing but a mirage.

Progress comes in all shapes and sizes, but it does not, apparently, offer provisions for preserving ancient leather binders. Pity.