Digital technology and aviation is rapidly evolving. Most operators hold on absolute reliance on automated systems both in the air and on the ground and most of us now except the assumption that computers do a better job of things than we do. Computers, in aviation, are everywhere – in large form they are controlling airplanes and in small form many are carried onto aircraft in the pockets and bags of aircrew and passengers.
It’s important to be reminded that the electronic flight bag or EFB see that out of necessity to reduce costs by improving efficiency. In its simplest form the EFB is a method of replacing aircrew amenities that were once provided on paper by sorting them and storing them in a mobile computer that is built into the airplane. There are numerous advantages to this, for example a library of manuals that must be carried on-board may weigh up to 50 or 60 pounds and it costs money to haul this added weight around the skies. Also, aircrew no longer has to fly with missing or out-of-date documentation. Gradually as aircraft operators have realized the benefits that their EFB systems were delivering, they also recognized their potential. So the EFB has evolved into a tool that now plays a major role in flight safety due to the information that it delivers, and the manner in which humans use this data, largely due to its modern ability to connect with on-board avionics.
So what else can the EFB do? Here are a few examples:
- Navigation and Instrument Approach chart display like the one below;
- Hold, maintain and sort libraries of manuals like the Minimum Equipment List or the Aircraft Flight Manual
- Forms such as Aircraft Logbooks and other Air Safety Reports can be completed, and even automated, using the EFB in ways that ensure clarity and standardization of notation that reduce human induces errors and oversights.
Additionally, EFB’s can hold aircraft performance and weight & balance calculators and in so replace tabulated paper charts while providing more accurate takeoff performance information (V speeds) because they use actual data rather than data which is rounded to the nearest 100 Lbs. to make arithmetic easier for humans. Here is a performance calculator for a B757:
There are many other uses, which are relevant in the modern, often unpredictable world, including: cabin surveillance, communications, Air Traffic Control applications like ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast).
The advantages and benefits to airlines of deploying EFB fleet-wide are compelling and, depending upon the total cost of entry, can easily be justified through competent ROI analysis in as little as 12-18 months. Here is another example:
- Flight Tracking – rapid dissemination and promulgation of vital information to aircrews is an important safety feature. Tracking allows flight crew managers on the ground to see when a crewmember has opened an important flight crew notice and obtain an “R&I” declaration that s/he has read and understood its contents.
The principle of the EFB is a sound idea that offers the operator gains in air safety and operational efficiency through enhanced surveillance and operating cost reductions. And today, with the ubiquity offered by Tablet EFB (computer) platforms like the Apple iPad, Class 2 capabilities are easily afforded in a form factor that allows pilots to carry on/off their company issued, or approved BYOD (bring your own device), allowing these cost and operating advantages to extend beyond the cockpit and support a broader base of training, communications, reporting and planning requirements.
Today, the next era of these connected realities is upon our industry with Class 2 connected tablet computers. The flyTab Class 2 iPad EFB solution is now a reality, and certified for use in nearly every Part 25 transport category aircraft. This convergence of advanced avionics domain data with the usability and portability of the COTS iPad tablet allow airlines to not only provide low-cost augmented reality and forms/document automation but also allows the real-time recording of aircraft flight data, and speedy delivery over air-ground data systems such as Iridium SATCOM, Gatelink, LTE or inexpensive Wi-Fi. IT also allows the rapid architecture, design and deployment of Type A & B EFB software applications that can easily be deployed upon highly qualified and airworthiness certified platforms using development tools and processes that are not only abundant, but are frameworks already approved by the world’s CAA’s. Operator customization, which used to be non-existent in early EFB platforms, is now fast, inexpensive and can be adapted, even conformed, to the airlines own unique operating environment, minimizing implementation obstacles – which directly relates to cost savings. And because the developmental frameworks for the customized systems is built upon a proven hardware platform and fielded with TSO’d equipage, device and applications training is minimal and often transparent to the end-user and regulatory authorizers.
To conclude, EFB computing devices have everyday benefits that support not only aircrew members, but also corporate managers and executive leaders in their visibility over nearly ever aspect of the flight operations and continued airworthiness. These advances directly lends to enhanced access to information and allows everyone from cockpit-to-corporate to make the most informed decisions possible thus enhancing safety, dispatch reliability, minimizing strains to crew resource management, improving communications, training, materials management, and overall operating efficiency. And in a world of razor-thin margins, what responsible airline manager is willing to cede the obvious benefits these data points provide in the name of short-terms gains. Our sources say very few.
Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready and Wired!