About 300 experts and specialists in electronic flight bags planned in mid-June to gather in Vienna for the 14th EFB User Forum at a time when demand for such devices and the hardware and applications that boost their utility is growing steadily.
Avionics readers told us in our most recent survey that nearly 55% of them need to acquire EFBs for their current fleets of aircraft. Responding from commercial, civil and military operations, readers said those fleets include both fixed- and rotary-wing types. Overwhelmingly, they said the primary reason for their EFB upgrade purchases was to improve flight operations efficiency. (You’ll find more about readers’ survey responses below.)
Readers’ sentiments reflect “big picture” data on the EFB.
Data provided by the ARINC Industry Activities program, which organizes the EFB Users Forum, notes the ongoing expansion of EFB use. When the first forum was held in April 2010, many major airlines had no EFB program. Aeronautical charts, approach plates and manuals were stuffed into boxy bags that pilots lugged from aircraft to aircraft.
That changed dramatically with the advent of Apple’s iPad and other tablet computers. Today, as the EFB Users Forum organizers point out, Jeppesen alone reports 150,000 professional pilots worldwide use its FliteDeck Pro interactive chart app, which it says has enabled 25 to 30 million airline flights without paper charts. Jeppesen says it delivers more than 30 terabytes of data each month to more than 300,000 tablet EFBs. That’s equal to more than 83,000 hours, or nearly 10 years, of streaming video.
One recent report projects the worldwide market for EFBs will grow by a compound annual rate of 12.7% through 2022. That growth is expected to be fueled, in part, by greater connectivity of aircraft, with access to Wi-Fi in flight and new integration hardware allowing airlines to choose mobile Windows and iOS tablets to run real-time applications for improved flight operations efficiency and safety.
Growth also should be spurred further by the pending revision of the FAA’s Advisory Circular 120-76.
Comments on the proposed AC 120-76D were due May 24. The revision, which is intended to replace 2014’s -76C introduces “a simpler concept of portable and installed equipment,” the FAA says, “to harmonize with the International Civil Aviation Organization and to accommodate increasingly complex systems integrating both installed and portable equipment.”
It also would, among other things, eliminate the current division of EFBs into Class 1 (standard commercial-off-the-shelf equipment such as laptops and handheld electronic devices like iPads), Class 2 (ranging from modified commercial-off-the-shelf equipment to purpose-built devices whose installation typically requires some form of a type certificate) and Class 3 (“installed equipment” subject to airworthiness requirements and under design control).
The hardware is subject to a limited number of RTCA DO-160E requirements (for nonessential equipment — typical crash safety, and conducted and radiated emissions testing). Class 3 EFBs are typically installed under STC or other airworthiness approval. Going forward, EFBs will simply be categorized as “portable” or “installed.”
Aircraft operators are intent on getting more benefits from EFBs.
Southwest led a team of experts to develop an approved solution that permits the use of Wi-Fi today. (FAA regulations now prohibit Wi-Fi in cockpits utilizing Honeywell Phase 3 displays for the Boeing 737s in Southwest’s fleet, and for 777s.) The effort has resulted in thousands of pilots getting real-time graphical weather and other updated information.
Hawaiian Airlines is working with UTC Aerospace Systems’ Sensors and Integrated Systems business in Burnsville, Minnesota, to give its Airbus A330, and Boeing 717 and 767 flight crews state-of-the-art EFB systems. The goal is to provide enhanced functionality, greater safety and stronger cybersecurity through a custom-tailored network-security architecture.
“This new EFB aircraft data management system gives us a clearer, real-time picture of our flight operations so that we can keep providing the safest and most affordable on-time travel for our customers,” says Ken Rewick, Hawaiian’s VP of flight operations.
The UTC Aerospace system consists of a tablet interface module (TIM) that works with the certified aircraft interface device (AID) on the aircraft to allow a user’s tablet to perform as an EFB and access an array of key aircraft avionics data such as GPS position, ground speed, aircraft heading and datalink communications.
The system features support for airspeed and fuel optimization in real time, access to aircraft health and maintenance data, and on-aircraft software upgrade capability, UTC Aerospace says.
The TIM provides aircraft data functions over wired or wireless links. It also provides power for the EFB and works through ARINC 429, 717, Ethernet and serial interfaces.
The tablet EFB systems provide Bluetooth connectivity between a pilot’s iOS or Windows tablet and TIM during all phases of flight, allowing the tablet to operate as a full EFB that receives real-time updates from the aircraft and airline network.
UTC Aerospace Systems received FAA supplemental type certification last year for the EFB system for use on the three Hawaiian Airlines airframes.
At the same time, Teledyne Controls has teamed with Jeppesen to enhance the latter’s FliteDeck Pro EFB by integrating Teledyne’s GroundLink Comm+ system with aircraft interface device (AID) functionality (GroundLink AID+).
GroundLink AID+ gives airlines real-time, GPS-based, “own-ship” position on navigational charts, en route and weather maps and arrival charts in FliteDeck Pro, Teledyne says.
Pilots using the 10,000 GroundLink units flying today can update pre-flight their EFB database and review maintenance logs, minimum equipment lists, and flight release and notices to airmen. On the ramp or during taxi, Teledyne says, they can calculate takeoff performance and complete their checklist. During the flight, they can log flight progress and review en route, arrivals and approach charts. After the flight, they can file the pilot log and send performance calculations off-board.
Those are the types of efficiencies Avionics readers seek from EFBs.
Of the respondents to our survey, 71.4% said they want to upgrade their EFBs to improve flight efficiency, while 14.3% said they need to replace outdated EFB technology. Only 6.1% said they want to reduce aircraft weight with EFB upgrades.
When asked what EFB hardware respondents have used, 75.6% said Apple’s iPad; 13.3% said they used Thales products in the same percentage said they have used Panasonics Avionics. Microsoft tablets were used by 11.1%, while 8.9% said they have used Astronautics’ EFB, and 4.4% each said they had used Samsung tablets and UTC Aerospace EFBs.
Most widely used EFB software applications were Garmin’s (63.2%), followed by ForeFlight’s (50%), ArincDirect and Honeywell’s GoDirect (each at 18.4%). UTC Aerospace’s software was cited by 7.9% of respondents and Ramco’s by 2.6%. AVS