Electronic flight bags (EFB) are being asked to do more and more. They already store and retrieve documents needed for flight operations such as aeronautical charts, operating manuals, airport information, weather information, route information, flight logs and other required information. Loaded with specialized software, these computers have replaced pilots’ flight bags stuffed with information on paper and save not only aircraft weight, but also time. With this real-time data, EFB solutions improve fuel efficiency, increase airline efficiencies by lowering ground operation costs, and streamline pilot workflows.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, EFBs are attractive because — relative to traditional avionics — they come at a low initial cost, they can be customized, and they are easily upgraded. Other EFB benefits include reduction in costs associated with data management and distribution, potential reduction in training costs, and even the avoidance of medical costs associated with pilot injuries from carrying heavy flight bags filled with paper. Some airlines are even working directly with vendors to design EFB solutions for their specific needs.
The performance of an aircraft will never be changed by an EFB system, because — as Jens Pisarski, COO of International Flight Support (IFS), Copenhagen, Denmark, explains — the aircraft’s performance is defined by its manufacturer’s design. “But the data quality and optimization calculations, accessibility and effectiveness during pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight reporting carried out by the crew can indeed be influenced … by establishing an integrated EFB cross-platform solution which includes flight data storage and data import/export from/to all needed third-party IT systems,” Pisarski says.
At their onset, EFBs were oriented toward individual pilots taking their personal equipment onto aircraft, such as laptops with standard office software to help with calculations. Today, advanced EFBs are fully certified as part of the aircraft avionics system, and many predict they will be integrated with aircraft systems such as the flight management system (FMS). Advancements and developments can display an aircraft’s position on navigational charts, depict real-time weather, and perform many complex flight-planning tasks.
Obviously, eliminating the onboard portage of heavy flight bags with thousands of pieces of paper for each flight is a great EFB perk. “Many features have been introduced in the EFBs in the past years from charting, electronic flight folder, weather data, aircraft performance calculations, documentation and checklists,” says Captain Olivier Aspe, Airbus flight ops and training expert pilot and EFB advisor for NAVBLUE, Blagnac, France. “These features have been designed and developed to be integrated in the pilot tasks/workflow and aircraft cockpit. The use of connectivity (Wi-Fi, 3G/4G) eases the exchange and update of data between the different sources of information. That’s the first benefit we can find compared to paper folders.”
Joachim Hochwarth, principal engineer, communication and connected technologies, GE Aviation Systems, Grand Rapids, Michigan, says the biggest EFB advancement came when portable EFBs started to become available with the introduction of the iPad. “EFBs were around before and had many advantages. The portable EFB not only replaces a lot of paper but allows for accessing up-to-date information when connected to the internet. EFB connectivity to the internet allows for up-to-date information to be shared with the flight crew. This is especially critical for environmental conditions such as significant weather, e.g. turbulence. GE Aviation’s Connected Flight Management System (CFMS) allows for a bi-directional connection with the FMS. This is in addition to EFBs just reading data from avionics (e.g., via an Aircraft Interface Device (AID)).”
International Flight Support’s EFBOne has a back-office portal engine where all flight data in/out of the EFB system goes through and is stored and which integrates the data flows with the airline’s various IT back-end systems used, such as flight planning systems, scheduling and crew planning systems, maintenance systems, and other IT system types. “EFB app-based solutions typically do not provide a common back-office solution,” Pisarski says. “If they do, they typically only cover the particular app’s data, but not the data related to other EFB app outputs which actually provide the airline with a relatively fragmented IT data-flow structure. The EFBOne cross-platform solution can gather all pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight reporting data in one place and facilitate easy integration to any third party system using robust standard REST APIs. Its integrated modular architecture provides a faster and more precise workflow than if the pilot has to jump around too many different EFB apps and has to re-enter the same data multiple times to get calculations and inputs done from various apps. Use of EFBOne can in most cases help reduce crew check-in time by 10 minutes due to its efficiency, and pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight reporting can typically be done in less than half the time it takes to do it when using multiple EFB apps which are not integrated.”
Rene de Vogel, flight deck and data solutions at Boeing Global Services, Frankfurt, Germany, explains how one area of EFB improvement has been the depiction of contextual information as seen with the products of Jeppesen, a Boeing company. “Jeppesen products implement so-called ‘Smart EFB Technology,’ which enables the depiction of contextual information specific to the user, their airline, the particular aircraft flown or even current weather conditions. We already see this in Jeppesen FliteDeck Pro’s Smart Airport Maps, where pilots see dynamic airport maps with low visibility conditions when those weather conditions apply, and clearly see which taxiways are prohibited for their particular aircraft’s wingspan. It means two pilots using the same FliteDeck Pro application at the same airport may see different airport maps depending on their aircraft type or airline. Each pilot receives the most important information for their flight, yet is protected against data overload. Contextual information is not restricted to the airport phase of flight. En route pilots access flight information based on their location along the route with our SmartNotes function, and see company-specific decompression routes, no-fly areas or company airport information presented on their dynamic tailored en-route map.”
Another concrete example de Vogel cites of how EFB developments increase aircraft performance is the Optimal Runway Exit (ORE) capability in Jeppesen FliteDeck Pro. “Airlines using Boeing’s Onboard Performance Tool can share and visually display auto-brake values (e.g. distance, brake cooling times, etc.) on dynamic airport maps in FliteDeck Pro. This leads to reduced maintenance costs and brake wear-and-tear.”
A growing number of apps are being developed and introduced to benefit EFBs and boost their performance, and Hochwarth says their number is limitless. “The FAA reported at a previous EFB Users Forum that after the most recent Advisory Circular (AC) 120-76D (Authorization for Use of Electronic Flight Bags) was published, the number of apps for which approval is requested continues to grow.”
Arnaud Thurat, head of EFB Business Solutions at NAVBLUE, Blagnac, France, explains there are currently many applications in the EFB market that serve (most of the time) only a single purpose. “Under this context, there is a recurring request of the market to integrate more and more of these applications into one single platform. The development of EFB apps focuses on the integration of the different functionalities previously provided by different apps and the creation of value through the synergies that result from this combination. The objective is to consolidate in one single app all the relevant information and functionalities for the mission of the pilot and to provide all that they need at every stage of the flight, meaning they don’t have to go from one application to another. Integration means the right information at the right time at the right place. Today, we are moving from EFB standalone applications to an electronic flight assistant (EFA) with the recent launch of NAVBLUE Mission+. It gathers all information pilots need in one platform. This is a significant upgrade to current ways to operate with paper or standard EFBs. This brings significant benefits such as time savings, reduced manual entries and risk of errors, and enhanced pilot situational awareness.”
Charlotte, N.C.-based Collins Aerospace is bringing to market a new generation of EFB applications specifically designed to generate incremental operational value. Philippe Lievin, principal marketing manager at Collins Aerospace, does not consider an EFB application as a standalone piece of software running in an aircraft. “We believe that an EFB application has both an airborne and a ground application, acting as a middleware interfacing multiple data sources and other operational services run directly by the airlines or by external stakeholders. As a result, it means that an EFB application — and more precisely its ground counterpart — has full access to the Information Systems operated by the airlines: Flight Planning Systems, Documentations Management, MIS (Maintenance Information Systems), ATC Data (e.g., SWIM Access). Most of the data processing (e.g. Optimization Algorithms) is run on the ground, with only the result of the computation being sent to the airborne EFB application.”
Lievin says this approach has multiple advantages:
• The EFB application has direct access to accurate data refreshed in real time.
• There’s no data duplication or paper copy. The EFB application can directly interface services (e.g., the Crew Management System and the Flight Planning System to get the Crew IDs and the Flight Plan).
• It is easy to scale the capacity of the application on the ground (Elastic Services if run in the Cloud); it is more challenging to scale a PED.
• It offers optimal management of the AirGround data link. As only the result of the computation is sent to the aircraft, there is no need to push Mbytes of raw data to the aircraft.
• Optimization is continuous. The EFB component running on the ground can run complex optimizations that can’t be run in the aircraft (lack of memory / CPU capacities). As a result, the insights computed by those applications are more accurate and able to take into account more parameters.
Incorporating EFB solutions based solely on EFB apps does not provide the airline with a common EFB IT data structure, and Pisarski cautions this means data can be spread out in multiple EFB apps/data servers. He further warns the gathering of all flight data in one central location can become a challenge, or an outright nightmare in some cases. “EFB solution projects are typically decided by the flight operations teams. However, it still comes as a surprise to most operators that when selecting an EFB platform consisting entirely of apps, they realize too late that the airline does not obtain the common back-office data structure that an EFB Platform solution would provide. IFS recommends that an EFB platform solution is considered as the main tool first and foremost, and then a few specialized apps can be added on the side as per preference, such as Chart Viewer or Performance apps, and the airline avoids gathering data from multiple data sources and the maintenance thereof.”
Eye on EFB’s Future
Looking to the future, Aspe says there are many EFB opportunities ahead within the limits of the certification requirements. “On our path to flight efficiency and sustainable aviation, we expect more and more flight optimization features to be introduced in EFBs. As an example, single engine taxi-in and taxi-out recommendations to support the pilot via the EFB. As for the charting function, the market will move toward dynamic data with the end of the PDF terminal charts and the introduction of contextual data for a unique globe user experience.”
Collins Aerospace takes the approach that an EFB application will be “agnostic” and will be more a generic component rendering information on the pilot’s EFB. This “generic” aspect will enable a fully incremental approach. For example, Lievin explains, an airline will start its EFB journey by providing a basic application displaying weather layers and high-level flight briefing information. When this basic solution is fully deployed, the airline can activate additional layers of services (e.g. a FPO Service, additional WX Objects, etc.).
Gary Goz, product leader of Connected Aircraft for GE Aviation Systems, Clearwater, Fla., says that as connectivity becomes more prevalent, he anticipates that non-safety critical functionality will gradually move from the safety-critical embedded avionics to the EFB. He says this will allow for faster innovation, as development of avionics software is costly and runs on very performance- and memory-limited hardware. “An example of this can be seen today where graphical flight planning can be done on an EFB using latest weather, NOTAM, etc. data. Once that flight plan can be transmitted into the avionics system securely, the need for manually re-entering the same flight plan will be unnecessary, making the embedded avionics instance redundant, but available as a secure backup.”
De Vogel predicts that in the near future we will see EFB solutions continue to develop with the seamless integration of these applications into a single app for each user persona. “I think we will see increased operational efficiencies coming from the ability to leverage aircraft parameters with newer aircraft via capabilities such as Onboard Network Servers (ONS) or via Aircraft Interface Devices (AIDs). Together with inflight connectivity, we will experience a shift to more information being readily available and exchanged between the aircraft and ground, and assuring the information remains up to date during the flight.”