JetBlue and Web Services

From WSJ comes an example of practical uses of web services:

JetBlue Airways uses Web services to continuously update its computerized flight manuals for pilots, for instance, and run some aspects of its online store. The company hopes to soon use the technology to link vendors like fuel companies to JetBlue’s own internal systems — making business transactions such as buying jet fuel easier and more efficient. JetBlue officials even have visions of travelers being able to check in for flights through Web-enabled phones and get updates on their cellphones about delayed flights, with the ability to book an alternative itinerary.

“We really, ultimately, would like to be more like an, but in the airline business,” says JetBlue Vice President and Chief Information Officer Jeff Cohen, referring to the online bookstore. “What we anticipate is that through Web services, we’ll be able to give you a better experience.”

Pilots receive all sorts of updates to those manuals, usually delivered in paper form to one of their work mailboxes. At airports, before they get on flights to which they’re assigned, pilots also generally receive other stacks of paper filled with data specific to that flight, such as radar and weather information. The FAA requires airlines to keep records of whether and when pilots receive such information.

JetBlue solved that problem by creating a novel Web service called “BlueBooks.” Using a Microsoft Web-services tool called VisualStudio.NET, computer programmers at the airline crunched code and came up with a new program that would automatically beam the manual updates and technical notices to pilots, wherever they were in the U.S. The program “knows, based on a Web service, what [information] you’re supposed to have on your computer,” and automatically supplies the information pilots don’t have, Mr. Cohen explains.

The procedure works like this: Before every flight, JetBlue pilots head to an airline lounge and log on to the Internet with their laptop computers. (They can either connect wirelessly, or use a high-speed connection.) Once they’re in, the pilots see a prompt to go to a local JetBlue “server” computer, which will serve up the updates they need from a main computer server at headquarters. Pilots acknowledge that they’ve received the updates, which are then automatically integrated into the electronic manuals the pilots have stored on their computers in compact, electronic Adobe Acrobat files. The computer also deletes the old, outdated procedures.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.