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EFB Users Realize Airliner IT, App Growth at 2019 SAE Forum

Lufthansa became the commercial airline industry’s first operator to upload information from an electronic flight bag to an aircraft’s flight management system, which was one of several technological advancements showing new pilot uses of tablets in cockpits discussed at the first EFB Users Forum of 2019.

The commercial airline industry’s first uploading of information from an electronic flight bag (EFB) to an aircraft’s flight management system (FMS) was demonstrated at the 18th EFB Users Forum conference held in Chicago, Ill.

The demonstration illustrated how Lufthansa, in cooperation with GE Aviation, is automating pilots’ data entry work using an interface that enables Lufthansa’s Lido pilot application to read flight-plan data and send that information from the EFB back to the management system.

This will allow pilots to upload a flight plan directly from an EFB to the plane’s flight management system, avoiding potential errors. Lufthansa pilots can also upload weather data and overlay it on the flight route cockpit display. In-flight, the FMS manages the flight plan by computing an optimal trajectory and provides pilots with guidance.

The Lufthansa Systems Lido Surface EFB application. Lufthansa Systems

“Until now, communication has been restricted to read-only from the FMS to the EFB,” said Pete Grau, lead principal engineer for the SAE ITC ARINC Industry Activities Program. “This is due to the FMS being certified hardware and a part of the aircraft control domain, while the EFB is not certified”

Grau runs SAE’s EFB Users Forum, where airline avionics engineers, EFB program managers, EFB app and mount-makers as well as airplane and systems designers and integrators gather once a year in the U.S. and Europe to formulate industry consensus on the safe and secure use of EFBs in a way that regulators can manage. A major achievement made at the Forum in 2017 under FAA guidance was replicated and announced at the 2019 Forum in Chicago by European regulators.

“EASA’s AMC 20-25 will now allow the display of own-ship position in all phases of flight: departure, en-route, arrival, and approach, paralleling the FAAs guidance in AC120-76D,” Grau said at the 2019 meeting in Chicago. “This is a major improvement for European operators. The contributors who made this possible presented their specifically-designed simulator testing program and results which were submitted to EASA enabling this change.”

Some of the world’s largest U.S. and European airlines are investing in the deployment of in-flight connectivity through both satellite and air-to-ground networks and they want to exploit those investments both for passenger cabin-based web surfing and to provide secure data to pilots in the cockpit. All of the flight operational use of in-flight connectivity is centralized around the types of applications, aircraft interface devices and servers airlines are customizing their aircraft and flight operations with.

EFB applications are becoming increasingly intertwined with avionics networking protocols and the organizational information networking system used by airlines to manage everyday processes like passenger ticket purchases and check-ins.

Airlines Synchronize IT, Flight Ops and Apps for EFB Growth

EFB program managers from Air France, JetBlue and Lufthansa showed the sophisticated synchronization of flight operations and newly created mobile IT workforces that is occurring at airlines to manage the expanded use of EFBs and applications by pilots.

Eike Bloemsma, EFB administrator for Lufthansa, said one of the most exciting EFB applications the airline is currently researching and developing, in partnership with the German Aerospace Research Institute, is an app that can show pilots optimal flaps and gear extension points to reduce noise levels on approaches to Frankfurt Airport.

A team of researchers at the Institute is going to measure the reduction in noise produced by pilots using the application during approaches to Frankfurt, according to Bloemsma.

“We have a best-of-breed approach, so if we find an application that suits our needs we buy it on the market, and sometimes we also do it on our own,” Bloemsma said. “We have our own internal development team that are important to the integration between software we buy from third parties and integrating them into our EFB ecosystem. We have noticed that a lot of times there’s a lot of technical aspects that sometimes software-based vendors are not able to fulfill.”

The Lufthansa EFB program manager estimates the airline’s pilots are split among two groups, with 60 percent using wireless tablets while those in legacy aircraft are using tablets hardwired into the aircraft. He said the airline wants to all pilots using wireless tablets within the next two to three years.

The shift will further optimize the way its applications share and process flight data between aircraft flight management systems and EFB operating systems as well as accessing updates about weather and other flight-route information via air-to-ground and satellite-based networks.

“We try to shift between going to market and what we do ourselves,” said Bloemsma. “We use connectivity on ground and in-flight extensively, especially on the aircraft, on the aircraft devices they use ACARS and the satellite broadband system, and this is protected from the passenger in-flight entertainment system. Whenever there’s an IP connection we use that and whenever its not we use ACARS, because ACARS is more reliable has a smaller message size at higher cost, so we do a lot of the in-flight data transfer over that.”

Marc Mautref, EFB program manager for Air France, said the Paris-based national carrier is shifting away from its current split structure where some pilots use Apple and others use Windows to one where all its pilots use Apple iPad iOS.

Air France is also shifting away from its initial deployment of NavAero’s BagC22 computer and display system with built-in connectivity to an all-iPad strategy, he said.

“We have class 3, class 2, and class 1 on Windows and iPads, so it’s almost 22,000 devices we have to update every 28 days,” Mautref said.

All of Air France’s current EFBs are installed as a native part of the aircraft’s embedded network and databus. The current process for updating those involves Air France mechanics plugging a portable data loader directly into the EFB to distribute payloads that include new applications, app and navigation database updates, security certificates and other IT interfacing components.

Moving forward, Air France pilots will all use 12.9-inch iPad Pros, with a centralized IT team tasked with monitoring the status of every EFB at all times.

“Now we’re based on a fully centralized system where we can see every status of every EFB, we have to continually evaluate that process and what that looks like,” said Mautref. “With the iPad we think the pilot will be involved in some of the administrative tasks. We need to reduce that to have the acceptance of the pilot.”

New York City-based JetBlue is also undergoing an EFB refresh program, as the airline signed for multiple digital EFB upgrades at the 2019 Paris Air Show, including renewal agreements for digital navigation charting, FliteDeck Pro services and new crew planning operations applications from Jeppesen. JetBlue is also adding Jeppesen’s new airport moving map services and ground controls applications to its flight operations to give pilots better situational awareness in the airport environment and the ability to manage data and navigation chart updates for the entire fleet.

One of the new EFB applications developed by ForeFlight in partnership with Jeppesen gives a pilot a split screen with synthetic vision on the left and Jeppesen charts on the right. ForeFlight

According to a presentation given by Jorge Deletore, manager of technical programs at JetBlue, in the first quarter of 2019 the airline replaced 2,700 iPad Air 2s with iPad Pro 10.5s and 11s, after Apple’s latest version of iOS no longer supported older versions of the iPad. Deletore said JetBlue has detailed preferences in terms of both its EFB devices and how their operating systems integrate with the airline’s digital fleetwide IT aircraft management system.

“All devices are the Pro variation, and we think this is very vital as we continue to need smooth rendering of these apps as they keep getting more and more data. We want to make sure there’s no lag, we want to ensure that they’re able to multi-task especially with the new features always being introduced by Apple,” said Deletore.

Next steps at JetBlue include the deployment of Apple Provision Utility, which is an Apple operating system application designed to automate device health-checking, device wipes as well as iOS and app updates. It would allow JetBlue’s IT team to remotely update EFBs and reduce the time required to provide loaners to pilots if a tablet fails.

A JetBlue Airbus A320. JetBlue

Deletore said working with applications on a native codebase such as iOS allows them to adopt new applications faster. One of JetBlue’s goals, which the company is pursuing in collaboration with avionics suppliers and airplane manufacturers, is to support the offloading and storage of data distributed between EFBs, aircraft systems and their internal IT network.

“We’re asking our OEMs to support content caching, a very specific framework which allows the toolset to offload data to devices directly instead of congesting our network which, even though LTE and 5G in the future, it’s still going to be an issue because we’re talking about gigabytes of data. We’re at the megabyte stage with USB drives, but it’s definitely going to be more,” said Deletore.