Update on December 1, 2023: after lots of customer feedback, we've added a new data feed that provide us with the full day's schedule for special liveries first thing each morning; we'll be compromising accuracy (potential false alarms when there are equipment swaps) for convenience (the ability to see the full day's schedule), but it will greatly improve the overall experience.
We're proud to announce that JetTip is now utilizing a real-time feed directly from the FAA. Our smart flight alert subscribers in the US will enjoy increased lead-time for diversions, more frequent updates, and the ability to see further into the future on our filterable arrival/departure boards.
Benefits of the new FAA data stream for our US subscribers
- Diversion alerts are virtually instant
Diversion notifications are now coming through so fast that you can get a JetTip alert, open your favorite flight mapping app, and see the aircraft's icon change course a few moments later. Previously, a poorly timed diversion alert might not come through for up to 20 minutes.
- Earlier alerts for interesting international departures
International carriers often don't have a tail number assigned until fairly close to departure. These alerts will now go out to our customers in real-time as carriers file their detailed flight plans.
- We can see further into the future now
Previously we had to strategically limit our data consumption to operations for the current calendar day to keep costs reasonable; now we can see broad flight plans (carrier + flight number) ~24-36 hours into the future, giving you a longer lead-time things like schedule changes and sports charters.
Fewer false alarms from equipment swaps This was greatly improved with our December 1 updates.
Tail numbers in these FAA data don't get assigned until closer to departure, so we're less likely to get a false alarm in the morning for a flight that gets its equipment swapped in the evening.
Background, shoptalk, and few potential shortcomings
In the seven years since JetTip was conceived, many of the organizations providing flight data to enthusiast and hobbyists market have shifted their attention to enterprise customers. Our primary flight data provider was no different, and in January informed us that their rates would effectively increase by over 400%; as such, our focus shifted from expansion to other English-speaking markets utilizing their global data services, to maintaining an acceptable level of service to our customers in the US and Canada with data from other sources. After discussions with industry experts and vendors in the US and Europe, it became clear that FAA's SCDS was our best bet.
Unfortunately, NavCanada announced they'd no longer be distributing their data via FAA's SCDS in March. We found another vendor that offers data there, and it's flowing into our system now, but whether or not it's good enough for our Canadian customers remains to be seen - I'm cautiously optimistic.
Our sharp-eyed customers will notice is that tail number assignments in certain situations aren't available with as much lead-time. Domestic flights from scheduled carriers may not have tail assignments until closer to departure, and inbound international flights from some carriers don't have tail numbers tagged in the system until they get into US-controlled airspace. In some cases, this can be somewhat helpful, as it reduces false alarms, in other cases, it can be very frustrating to get an alert for an airborne flight hours after it's departed another country enroute to the US (we might be able to mitigate this with licensed ADS-B data). Edit: this was greatly improved with the December 1 updates.
FAA's SCDS coverage in Alaska and Hawaii is also different than CONUS. There's still enough data there for it to be useful, but customers there may notice differences in flight data quality, especially for interisland / intrastate flights.
We're now utilizing a less mature system for ingesting and processing all of these flight data. Our new system now is up to the task for 99% of the flights out there, but there are still a few glitches, gremlins, and fringe cases that we need to get a better handle on. We had a few snafus last week as the transition occurred, but most of those have been dealt with now - if you notice any other bugs, please reach out and let us know via an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or a DM on Facebook, Instagram, or Mastodon.
Feedback and new feature opportunities
Now that most of this work behind the scenes has been taken care of, our focus can once again shift to improving the customer-facing part of smart flight alert service and filterable arrival/departure boards. We've got plenty of improvements and features requests on our to-do list, and look forward to announcing them in the future.
As always, I welcome any and all feedback. I'm especially interested in hearing from our subscribers in Canada, Hawaii, and Alaska, as well as anyone else who notices repeating glitches anywhere else. Again, messages via an email to email@example.com, or a DM on Facebook, Instagram, or Mastodon, are appreciated.
Thanks for your ongoing support! We look forward to many more years of serving the plane spotting community.
Nick lives in Burnsville, Minnesota with his wife and three children. He grooves on railroad and aviation photography, politics, geography, weather, and LEGO. He started JetTip's smart flight alert service in 2017, and is now a full-time avgeek. He can frequently be found atop a step ladder at MSP's Aircraft Viewing Area.