The pace of change in electronic flight bags (EFB) has been truly astonishing. Just a few years ago, pilots carried flight bags filled with paper charts and manuals. Initial EASA and FAA guidance categorized EFBs as Class 1 (portable), Class 2 (mounted) or Class 3 (installed).
Then came the iPad, which changed everything. Being low cost, high performing, intuitive, compact, mobile and easily acquired and upgraded, the iPad and later the Surface offered many advantages never seen before. Within a few years, tablet EFB programs accounted for the majority of new program authorizations, and have today become the go to solution for most airline carriers.
The speed and widespread adoption of EFB using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) devices has been breathtaking. There has also been tremendous growth in associated mobile applications and their capabilities. Finally, connectivity options and declining costs have opened many new frontiers inconceivable or unaffordable just a few years ago. Initial uses include graphical inflight weather, turbulence avoidance, optimized flight tracks and profiles, company communications and more. Many of the emerging FAA NextGen and Eurocontrol SESAR initiatives, including 4-D trajectories and free flight, will require broadband connectivity to be cost-effective and achievable.
While tablet EFBs have made enormous strides, and continue to do so, there are limits to what these tablets can accomplish or be legally allowed to execute. They cannot be relied upon to operate or navigate an airplane, only certified avionics can. Tablet EFBs are COTS devices and as such are not certified the way the airplane’s avionics are. Avionics must pass rigorous testing standards, such as RTCA DO-160: Environmental Conditions and Test Procedures for Airborne Equipment, to be certified and legal as airworthy equipment before they can ever be installed in an airplane.
There are also aircraft design and architecture considerations that limit the ultimate uses of COTS EFB devices. ARINC Specification 664P5: Aircraft Data Network Part 5 Network Domain Characteristics and Interconnection and ARINC Report 821: Aircraft Network Server System (NSS) Functional Definition clearly define different domains on the aircraft and what types of functions they can undertake. The aircraft control domain is intentionally segregated, closed and independent of all others. Only certified avionics can be utilized there.
At Avionics, we’re looking to highlight issues associated with EFBs, such as regulatory changes, communication interfaces, data input devices, terminals, displays and interactive devices, as well as hardware and software development, electrical interfaces and power supply. Is there a new operational enhancement, in-service issue or regulatory harmonization challenge we should be highlighting? Email me at email@example.com to let us know.
We hope you enjoy the special edition EFB coverage we feature in this issue of Avionics for the EFB Users Forum. We look forward to covering the ongoing evolution of EFB flight operations across all segments of the industry. AVS