The last man selling floppy disks says he still receives orders from airlines

AlphaX

Posts: 22   +6
Staff
Through the looking glass: Do you remember floppy disks? The archaic storage device used to ruled computers of the 1980s and 1990s, but a good number of you reading this may have never seen or used one before. Surprisingly though, they still hold a place in one specific and unlikely setting: airlines.

Long before the days of SSDs, USB drives, or even CD and DVDs, floppy disks used to rule the computer world. There's a high chance that you haven't used a floppy in a decade or two, if ever. The legacy medium was eventually replaced by newer and better technology until it simply fell into a state of complete extinction -- or so we thought.

Tom Persky, founder of floppydisk.com, doesn't agree with the idea that floppy disks are "useless" or "extinct." Tom regularly repairs, recycles, and sells floppy disks to anyone who may want their hands on the old technology. The site even has that old retro feel of old websites from the 1990s and early 2000s, as shown below.

In a book written by Persky, he goes over some of the more recurring customers on the site. Tom sells a large number of floppy disks to industrial companies. Persky writes, "Imagine it's 1990, and you're building a big industrial machine... You design it to last 50 years and you'd want to use the best technology available."

Workers in the medical field are also common visitors, as some devices used on patients still use floppy disks to this day, over 50 years after their invention. There's also people, whom he calls "hobbyists," who flock to the site to "buy 10, 20, or maybe 50 floppy disks." These groups of customers are certainly interesting, but Tom emphasizes one workplace that constantly purchases new floppy disks: airlines.

Airlines have a high demand for floppy disks, and they serve as a significant portion of Persky's sales through floppydisk.com. "Take the airline industry for example. Probably half of the air fleet in the world today is more than 20 years old and still uses floppy disks in the avionics. That's a huge consumer." To put that in context, in 2020, the total number of planes in the US commercial aircraft fleet was 7,690, and that number has likely grown since Aeroweb posted those numbers.

Persky has seemingly proven that the floppy disk is not extinct and it still serves some useful purpose, even if it's a less than ideal (and overly delicate) storage medium.

Some countries are beginning to enact laws to move away from it once and for all, including Japan. The digital minister of Japan, recently "declared a war" on floppy disks as he wants Japan to change regulations to require businesses to abandon floppy disks and CDs and move over to digital forms of storage in order to make regulation easier.

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Alfonso Maruccia

Posts: 21   +7
Staff
Just some days ago I dumped the two 3,5" floppy disks from my original personal copy of Flashback for DOS (I feel like playing this classic again), and a week ago I made a dump of a 34-years old floppy belonging to a recently acquired, brand-new World Class Leader Board box (for DOS, of course).

Never had a single issue in reading the belated floppies through my trusty TEAC 3,5" USB floppy reader (I've got a ginormous TEAC drive+a Kryoflyx USB board for dumping 5,25" disks as well).

So yeah, floppy disks aren't dead yet - at least in my house :-D
 

0dium

Posts: 334   +395
Just some days ago I dumped the two 3,5" floppy disks from my original personal copy of Flashback for DOS (I feel like playing this classic again), and a week ago I made a dump of a 34-years old floppy belonging to a recently acquired, brand-new World Class Leader Board box (for DOS, of course).

Never had a single issue in reading the belated floppies through my trusty TEAC 3,5" USB floppy reader (I've got a ginormous TEAC drive+a Kryoflyx USB board for dumping 5,25" disks as well).

So yeah, floppy disks aren't dead yet - at least in my house :-D
I also use floppies on old machines too ;)
 

Sathi43

Posts: 52   +63
more than 20 years old and still uses floppy disks in the avionics.

An engineering student these days could build a device to emulate a floppy drive that's more responsive and reliable than the original floppy drive itself. In a world where the backbone of financial systems still run on Cobol, I get why they wouldn't go through the troubles though.
 
Yep, they are still there .... I've got a box of multi-color 1.4 mb still up in the closet AND I've got a removable disk drive here too .... I wonder if win-10 can format these babies .... guess that will be a good project for tomorrow ....
How I can reach to buy a flopy disck
 

MarkHughes

Posts: 299   +264
I still have hundreds in storage for my Amiga, Every so often I dig it all out and it all still works. I also now have a floppy emulator with a usb stick that is quite nice.
 

UncleMikeRetro

Posts: 20   +32
Yep, they are still there .... I've got a box of multi-color 1.4 mb still up in the closet AND I've got a removable disk drive here too .... I wonder if win-10 can format these babies .... guess that will be a good project for tomorrow ....
Yup! Win10 and Win11 are still all good with the floppys!
 
An engineering student these days could build a device to emulate a floppy drive that's more responsive and reliable than the original floppy drive itself. In a world where the backbone of financial systems still run on Cobol, I get why they wouldn't go through the troubles though.
It mostly comes down to certifications. Airplane loses certification if it's changed in a way that the manufacturer doesn't have approval paperwork for making that exact change. Uncertified aircraft cannot fly revenue, and the fines are huge. Same deal for medical devices. Industrial control hardware that doesn't need certification has undoubtedly already been fitted with emulation gear.
 

Revolution 11

Posts: 178   +232
An engineering student these days could build a device to emulate a floppy drive that's more responsive and reliable than the original floppy drive itself. In a world where the backbone of financial systems still run on Cobol, I get why they wouldn't go through the troubles though.
Who even has an original floppy drive? Floppy drives improved greatly in size, reliability, and cost over the years they were in use.
 

p51d007

Posts: 3,292   +2,883
As with "manual transmission" being sort of kind of an "anti theft device"
I guess in a way floppy disk could be a way of securing some data as someone
that wants to steal something, they wouldn't have a floppy drive to run it on.
Heck those Iomega zip drives could be thrown into that as well.
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 2,584   +3,157
TechSpot Elite
Whoa! I grew up on these, starting with the 5¼" floppies used by my school's Commodore 64s (LOAD "WHATEVER" ,8,1) and my family's IBM PC. The double-density floppies had a capacity of 360kB and the high-density floppies held 1.2MB each. These were replaced by the 3½" (non) floppies that could hold 720kB and 1.44MB respectively. I remember having those big floppy disk cases to hold my game disks (like Wolfenstein 3D). Man, I REALLY feel old now! :laughing:

Fun fact: The reason why nobody has an A or B hard drive is that Windows still uses parts of the DOS kernel at its core and the drive letters A and B are STILL reserved for floppy drives ONLY.
 
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Actual former user of 8" floppy drives here. An IBM bank terminal controller for the terminals I made a living repairing for ten years used them. I still have the original sets of Windows 3.1 and OS/2 on 3.5" floppies lying around in my attic. Sadly my 5" floppy collection was destroyed in a flood, along with three brand new half height drives. Sob. My wife has an Apple II Color still functional, with over 50 educational games on 3.5" floppies (retired kindergarten teacher). She used it in her classroom up until three years ago.
 

Ben Myers

Posts: 205   +81
You can't even get a PC / laptop with an OPTICAL drive these days and those people still use floppy drives!!!
Surprisingly, some name brand desktop and tower computers still have optical drives. I tricked out a small new Lenovo desktop for a client recently. He needed an optical drive for whatever reason, and a laptop-sized thin optical drive was already in the system. Optical drive in a laptop? Nope, not any more.
 

Ben Myers

Posts: 205   +81
It mostly comes down to certifications. Airplane loses certification if it's changed in a way that the manufacturer doesn't have approval paperwork for making that exact change. Uncertified aircraft cannot fly revenue, and the fines are huge. Same deal for medical devices. Industrial control hardware that doesn't need certification has undoubtedly already been fitted with emulation gear.
So? Manufacturer gets the approval to substitute a USB flash stick reader in place of the floppy drive, and charges the airlines serious money to retrofit each plane. I sure would not want my airplane to rely on floppy disks.
 

I didn’t see it mention WHAT airlines use Floppy disks for? Anyone know?

The avionics in their planes require occasional updates like any other computer. Many older ones still use floppy disks for that and an update can require dozens of disks. Updates are released every few months to update things that change over time, like the nav computers database of airports, waypoints, etc. as well as patch any bugs that have been discovered.
 
So? Manufacturer gets the approval to substitute a USB flash stick reader in place of the floppy drive, and charges the airlines serious money to retrofit each plane. I sure would not want my airplane to rely on floppy disks.
That’s the point, they have to get approval. Are you under the impression that doing so is as simple as telling regulators “Hey we’re gonna swap out this one part but everything’s still gonna work basically the same, ok?” And then the FAA says “Sure, go ahead, whats the worst that can happen?” No, Boeing kinda messed up that arrangement for everyone. Certifying a new part that by its nature has direct access to all the computers and avionics in the cockpit is not a straightforward, quick, or cheap process. And as the benefits are negligible compared to the costs of that change, its pointless to even bother. Why should passengers care how the software was delivered to the plane? The software is already loaded into the computer its not like the pilots are fumbling around midflight with a box of disks trying to find the one that lets them land.
 

gamerk2

Posts: 727   +696
The avionics in their planes require occasional updates like any other computer. Many older ones still use floppy disks for that and an update can require dozens of disks. Updates are released every few months to update things that change over time, like the nav computers database of airports, waypoints, etc. as well as patch any bugs that have been discovered.

Exactly this. Long-lived systems have issues like these; it's not worth the cost (or risk) to upgrade everything to use modern standards when the old ones work just fine. Wouldn't be shocked if some of the development tools run on a Win98 SE box (or even a Windows 3.11 box) either for much the same reason.

The technology also persists long term, as any tools that interface with older technology themselves will be required to support it. Wouldn't be shocked if some elements of the newest aircraft still have technology from the 90's in them, because the platform itself is just another derivative of an older design.