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EFBs: More Than Paper Replacers

The ever-evolving electronic flight bag (EFB) has become an integral part of the pilot’s toolbox — part safety device, part costs saver.

The FAA defines today’s electronic flight bag (EFB) not as a device, but as a “function.” In other words, a pilot’s portable tablet with apps make it an EFB. In its basic form, an EFB performs flight-planning calculations and displays a variety of digital documentation.

Yet the EFB and related technology have evolved significantly over the past 25 years. What began as a digital replacement for the airline pilot’s 40-pound kit containing paper navigational charts and other information, then offered as a featured option of a flight management system, is now offered on lightweight EFB-enabled tablets.

“The original role of EFBs was to reduce weight on the aircraft and simplify updates to the charts,” said Murray Skelton, director of strategy and business development at Teledyne Controls. “We have gone way beyond that.”

Boeing’s Jeppesen, whose name for years was synonymous with producing paper navigational charts and whose EFB-enabled FlightDeck Pro 3.9/9.0 and Jeppesen Mobile Flight Deck are popular items for commercial and general aviation operators, respectively, offers noteworthy statistics on the growth of EFBs in air transportation. As of late 2017, 150,000 professional pilots and an additional 70,000 general aviation pilots use Jeppesen EFBs.

In 1992, Jeppesen demonstrated a prototype “electronic library system” at the Paris Air Show. Four years later, the company introduced at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, JeppView, a product the company claims was the first EFB solution before the term EFB was used.

EFB’s value is saving money and inceasing efficiency. The fuel savings to commercial airlines by removing all that paper is particularly noteworthy. Numerous U.S. airlines use EFB-enabled iPads. American Airlines’ use of EFBs saves 400,000 pounds of jet fuel per year, according to its corporate responsibility report. United Airlines, which launched its transition from paper to digital via EFBs in 2011, predicted a savings of more than 300,000 pounds of jet fuel annually. United did not respond to a request for updated information these savings.

With the transition to digital chart information complete, airlines are adding apps to make EFBs more capable. Southwest Airlines’ EFB package comes with moving-map and other functions. Air France has been running this kind of capability for six years, said Skelton.

Numerous avionics, hardware and software systems designers and manufacturers are involved in the evolution of EFB technology.

Astronautics Corp., which provides EFB hardware, helped pioneer it. The company brought the concept to Boeing, which eventually offered EFB capability on all its commercial airliners.

Astronautics started in the EFB field in 1992 with the TITAN service with FedEx and was awarded an EFB contract with Boeing that same year as an option for the 777.

“It was the first [fully connected] touchscreen device in a Boeing cockpit and certified on a KLM 777 in 2002,” said Brian Keery, product strategy manager of connected aircraft solutions at Astronautics. “Now we’ve come full circle from connected to unconnected and back to connected, where we started having a fully integrated aircraft system.”

Astronautics evolved its family of EFBs with dual- and single-processor systems, and military/tactical flight bag systems, based on evolving processing, memory and interface capabilities, including the integration of mobile devices and technology. The fully connected EFB system is possible thanks to an aircraft interface device (AID), which connects the mobile device to the aircraft. More than 1,300 Boeing aircraft use a version of Astronautics’ EFB hardware already; software is developed by a third party.

Airport Moving Map adds aircraft ownship positioning to Jeppesen terminal charts in the EFB environment, providing enhanced airport situational awareness on the ground. Dynamic chart rendering of runways, taxiways and other airport structures improves runway safety, particularly during times of high congestion or poor visibility.Photo courtesy of Jeppesen

Astronautics’ BP5, the latest of its integrated EFB servers, will be standard fit on next-generation Boeing 787s and available for retrofit on existing 787 and 777s. The BP5 offers performance improvements, including more processing power, storage and mean time between failure. Capability enhancements include support for a mobile device interface and additional ARINC 717 input.

Like every technology, EFBs in the cockpit and on portable devices had problems in their infancy.

“The early purpose-built EFBs were essentially e-readers and quite expensive,” recalled Bill Stone, avionics products manager at Garmin. “Getting operational approval was a burden. The adoption rate was low and slow initially. But the cost and availability of [EFB-enabled tablets] is much lower now, and current FAA policy makes it easier for pilots to use that information.”

Others concur. “Early on, EFBs were difficult to work with,” said Skelton, who was EFB program manager for Virgin Atlantic in 2005 to 2006.

Today’s EFBs have improved considerably and mostly support iPads for U.S. airlines and Windows-enabled tablets for European airlines, said Skelton. He estimated that return on investment, the principal mantra of airline management, is fewer than 12 months for A320s and 737s.

Avionics manufacturers took a measured approach initially to adopting EFB technology as a means to improve pilots’ situational awareness.

Garmin didn’t pursue development of portable EFB technology initially, said Stone. The company expanded its display technologies on the integrated flight deck to be able to store and render significant data — something Stone said “works well from a forward-fit standpoint, but doesn’t address the retrofit very well.”

The advent of relatively low-cost tablets, such as the Apple iPad, Microsoft Surface Pro and the Android tablet provided platforms for which avionics manufacturers could develop EFB apps.

Garmin’s flight stream products, designed as wireless gateways for onboard avionics, allow data to be shared with the EFB and allow crew to do flight planning. EFB products often began as portable GPS units and expanded to include portable navigation and additional capabilities.

Garmin’s EFB tech include the aera 660 portable navigator, which provides aviation maps and is equipped with GPS and GLONASS satellite constellations capability as well as flight-mapping capability and graphical-terrain information. The aera 796 portable GPS has 3-D navigation with multiple flight display as well as EFB capability, built-in GPS and a seven-inch touchscreen tablet. Flight charts, IFR flight charts and sectionals are built in. The 796 is the follow-on to the 696. Garmin also offers the 695 and 795 portable multi-function-capable devices and the Garmin Pilot app for Apple and Android.

The growth of EFB-related business continues. In August 2017, Teledyne’s GroundLink AID received supplemental type certification for Austrian Airlines’ fleet of Airbus, Boeing and Embraer aircraft. The is installed in the airline’s entire fleet.

“Austrian Airlines was able to further enhance the solution by adding new applications and functions without any change to the hardware,” said Martin Pfannhauser, the airline’s senior project engineer.

The airline chose the Microsoft Surface Pro EFB and uses GroundLink AID+, integrated with Lido/eRoute Manual.

ForeFlight offers several products including its mobile EFB for Apple devices. Foreflight Aeronautical Maps features continuous-zoom technology. ForeFlight Flights View has a flight log for entering time and fuel values for each flight. In 2017, ForeFlight teamed with Jeppesen to provide data and software to pilots and flight operations.

Safe & Secure

A primary concern is to protect the data exchanged between the flight deck, portable device and the ground from hackers and data thieves.

Avionics suppliers are partnering with the FAA to create a methodology to evaluate aircraft systems and potential threats. Some regulatory bodies are open to sharing data from aircraft to a mobile device and vice versa. Others are cautious.

EFB hardware and software systems developers are working with the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) to promote industry awareness of cybersecurity and to develop better policy. These companies worked with AEEC’s ARINC’s 848 Working Group on a new standard for secure IP broadband communications over public networks. Its next meeting, the EFB Users Forum, is scheduled May 15-17 in Miami, Florida.

Garmin’s EFB tech include the aera 660 portable navigator, which provides aviation maps and is equipped with GPS and GLONASS satellite constellations capability as well as flight-mapping capability and graphical-terrain information.Photo courtesy of Garmin

AC 120-76D, which was issued in 2018, allows EFB apps to display own-ship positioning in all phases of flight. Aviation groups caution pilots not to become too attached with EFBs.

“The only concern AOPA has is pilots paying too much attention to the [EFB] devices,” said Tom Haines, SVP of media, communications and outreach for Airline Owners and Pilots Association. Or, he added, “not paying enough attention to the moving map out of the cockpit window.”

FAA Part 23 reforms allow manufacturers to use performance-based, industry-agreed standards to replace “prescriptive” manufacturing methods on new aircraft designs and technologies. Those reforms also recommend new and evolving safety technology.

“If FAA doesn’t set unreasonable roadblocks and let technology be cost-effective, there can be dramatic safety improvements,” said Greg Bowles, VP of global innovation and policy for GAMA. And that technology includes EFBs.

As for the future, “it’s all about applications and keeping connectivity,” said Skelton. ”If you have a broadband satcom, you can keep connectivity to the [EFB-enabled] tablet. Whereas before, the aircraft’s main connectivity was through ACARS.”

With the acceptance of EFB in the digital age, “the second wave is underway,” said Jeppesen’s Ellerbrock. “Connecting information between airplane and ground, having EFB applications talking to one another and making the pilot’s workload easier are big themes.”

Look for future EFBs to take advantage of analytics, artificial intelligence to improve decision making and information sharing in the cloud.

Ellerbrock concluded, “Many of the information sharing trends happening on the ground are making their way into EFB.”

USAF Leads Military on EFB Acceptance

After seven years, the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command (AMC) has proof of the value of portable electronic EFBs in transport-category military aircraft.

What started off in 2010 as an EFB initiative to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of AMC aircrews on C5 Galaxy mega-transports is now a money-saving tool on numerous other aircraft, including the C-17, C-130J, KC-10 and KC-135s.

Many Air Force transport aircrews have transitioned to EFB-enabled tablets. Each crewmember on these aircraft is issued an EFB-enabled tablet.

Getting rid of paper in the cockpit started the EFB program. “Slowly, the crews realized the potential out there for EFBs,” said Master Sgt. Joseph Pinkerton, AMC A3 Standard Evaluation C-5M Examiner Loadmaster. Pinkerton is with AMC at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, located east of St. Louis, Missouri.

From fiscal year 2012 to 2017, the Air Force saved more than $3.7 million in fuel costs by converting to EFB digital navigation charts and plates in various aircraft, said Pinkerton. Removing 120 pounds of paper from every sortie saves roughly $780,000 per year in fuel costs of AMC transports.

Using EFBs increases safety and enhances the crews’ access to technical orders, as well. Crews also can use the portable devices off duty to study their publications and remain proficient.

AMC scrapped obsolete paper checklists and moved to a digital checklist on its various air medical aircraft. “For [air medical] aircrews to jump from aircraft to aircraft and have everything on an EFB lessens the crew burden to carry equipment,” he added.

EFBs enhance safety by allowing aircrews to calculate aircraft performance for safer departures and arrivals and calculate aircraft weight and balance for loading-planning purposes accurately.

Maintaining security of these systems downloaded to tablets is of utmost importance to the AMC, said Pinkerton. "In our line of work, cybersecurity takes precedence over everything," he added. "We don’t want to detract from the efficiency of using EFBs, but security is important."

AMC recently signed a contract with Blackberry to take over the mobile device management of EFBs. In time, AMC will be in a full mobile content management mode, where the device will be 100% managed by Blackberry and content will be transferred to the portable tablet over a secure network.

AMC is engaged with the Air Force's Air Combat Command and Special Operations Command, which are “mimicking the exact [EFB] program that AMC is using," said Pinkerton. "AMC is the lead unit because it is the largest in terms of transport aircraft." GCA Link