Electronic flight bags (EFBs) have evolved from electronic novelties to must-have essentials in today’s cockpits. Mounting EFBs safely in the cockpit can be a challenge, particularly in older aircraft. This is why ATR recently spoke with EFB mount manufacturers to see how they’re solving this and other mounting-related issues.
ABC Completions’ Suite of EFB Fixed Mounts
ABC Completions has been offering fixed mounts with data/electrical connections for Class II EFBs since 2005. “We began with CMC Electronic Flight Bags,” said company President Gary Nash. “We launched them first for Bombardier Global Express/5000/6000 business jets, and then added the Challenger. We followed up with the Boeing BBJ/757 and the Dassault Falcon 2000.” (Note: the CMC EFBs use Expansion Module Units that are mounted in the avionics bay or side consoles, along with the touchscreen displays that are mounted near the pilot’s side windows.)
Today, ABC Completions continues to provide EFB mounts made of aviation-grade aluminum for the CMC EFB, and has expanded its line to support iPad Class II EFBs as well. Its pivoting/swivelling EFB mounts are either attached to the window frame or the side console below it, depending on the aircraft model. But what all of them have in come is that these EFB mounts are all FAA STC’d.
“We don’t do any sort of unapproved installations,” said Nash. “So we are limited in the airplane types that we can install to without doing major cockpit renovations and relocations.”
ABC Completions’ sacrifice is good news for its EFB-using customers, because they can buy this product knowing that they have been FAA-approved and validated. But this sacrifice can make it difficult to sell EFB mounting systems into older aircraft, where custom modifications may have to be made to fit them in.
Conversely, the aviation industry’s move to iPad-based EFBs is helping ABC Completions to grow its EFB mounting business. But Gary Nash draws the line at cheapening his products in order to boost sales.
“I’ve seen people attach their EFBs to $70,000 windows using suction cups, which I really can’t believe that anyone should do,” he said. “I’ve also seen US airlines that Velcro their EFBs onto panels in the cockpit. Neither of these are certified solutions, which is why we don’t offer them. We want ABC Completions’ customers to be comfortable with the quality and reliability that we offer by mounting their EFBs safely and securely. This extends to the wiring and cabling in the aircraft: We leave it neat and safe.”
Looking ahead, Gary Nash is keeping his eye on Apple and its penchant for releasing new iPad models, which can end up as Class II EFBs. “Luckily our housing is easy to adapt to accommodate any changes to the iPad’s case, which hasn’t been happening of late,” said Nash. “Instead, Apple is now focussed on changing features inside the iPad’s existing case, including increasing screen size, which makes life easier for us.”
Airbus’ Mounting Solutions
Airbus is offering several EFB mounting solutions for its commercial airliners.
In the Airbus A320 fleet, an Apple iPad mount attaches the EFB to the cockpit window frame. Compatible with the iPad 2/3/4 and iPad Air 1/2, this unit features a clamping bracket that holds the EFB in place and comes with an integrated electrical power. A purely structural mount solution is also available for the A320 Family, for which power needs to come from the nearby cockpit power outlet.
The company’s EFB mounting solution for Airbus A330 and A350 aircraft works with iPad/iPad Air, Surface/ Surface Pro and Thales Pad tablets. The mount attaches in the sidewall below the window frame and includes a quick-release connector to remove the EFB when not in use. For this solution, power is provided externally from the nearby cockpit power outlet.
As for future developments for EFB mountings: Airbus is looking to develop more standardized integration of the latest USB-C standards for power provision.
Avionics Support Group’s Constant Friction Mount
Avionics Support Group’s (ASG) contribution to EFB mounting solutions is known as the ASG Constant Friction Mount (cfMount). It was designed in 2003. Two years later, the cfMount was installed as part of the first commercially used Class 2 EFB system on a Miami Air B737NG.
Unlike some other EFB mounting solutions that are removable (e.g. by using suction cups), the cfMount is a fixed structure designed to be attached to an aircraft’s window frame. ASG chose this location because a window location is convenient for pilots who use EFBs, and also because the window frame provides a solid, robust support structure.
Physically speaking, the ASG cfMount is comprised of a top plate and bottom plate. The top plate that holds the EFB is connected to a large swivelling ball in the bottom plate (which is fixed to the window frame). This design allows the EFB to be pivoted, angled and turned using one hand for optimal viewing by the pilot without having to loosen or tighten any screws/knobs.
Because window frame shapes and sizes vary from aircraft to aircraft, the cfMount comes in three models. There is the standard model (the cfMount), plus the Slide cfMount and the Wedge cfMount.
ASG’s decision to offer three models of cfMounts is a response to tightly-packed cockpits, where finding space to add after-market devices can be challenging. “This is why we have gone through an extensive design and FAA STC certification process,” said ASG VP Hugo L. Fortes. “We listen to the customer and any of their concerns before a final design review and STC issuance is accomplished.”
ASG developed its three cfMount models after the company’s engineers surveyed a number of aircraft cockpits. In each case, “we considered the space in the cockpit and the optimal viewing angle for the pilot,” said Fortes. “We also considered window egress, ease of use and accessibility of the cockpit oxygen mask to make sure our cfMount location does not interfere with any adjacent fixtures.”
During these surveys, ASG’s engineers took time to assess the availability of electricity for EFBs and their specific power requirements. As a result, “we offer a wide variety of EFB power solutions along with data capabilities,” Fortes said. “EFB power solutions can also be customized to fit the specific needs of an operator …The main challenge is accommodating the ever-changing power requirements that exist as tablets evolve.”
Moving forward, ASG is “looking at USB-C and integrated Ethernet/Power requirements for iPads – receiving Ethernet information and power at the same time which we believe is the future,” said Fortes. “Most major US airlines are using our cfMounts with the next step being combined Ethernet/Power. Our solution provides a hard-wired ethernet connection to the iPad allowing for weather, GPS information, and other data-centric services.”
FlyBoys’ PIVOT EFB Mounts
FlyBoys’ unique PIVOT EFB mounting system was inspired by company founder Mike Schulter’s experiences as a Southwest Airlines first officer.
“I was in the right seat of a 737 sitting at the gate in Dallas, and the captain was on the EFB team. He pulled out an iPad, a big cradle and a giant set of suctions cups,” Schulter recalled. “Seemed like he took 10 minutes using both hands to get this rig attached so he could actually use it. I thought to myself, ‘there has to be a better way’.”
Knowing Southwest was seeking an EFB mounting solution but had not decided, Mike watched closely and took notes over the next several days. Since he already ran an established aviation-goods company when not in the cockpit, Mike got together with his engineers to develop a leading-edge EFB system in order to win this contract. In just a couple of weeks, the result was the PIVOT mounting system, which Southwest ultimately deployed airline wide just nine months later. With more than 150 user airlines worldwide, including airlines such as United, Delta, FedEx, Emirates, ANA and KLM on the client list, PIVOT is the fastest growing solution in the world. Currently, the U. S. Air Force and Navy are deploying PIVOT as well.
The genius of the PIVOT mounting system lies in its use of separate but universal EFB mounting bases and matching ruggedized EFB cases. The mounts primarily use compression-locked suction cups or something known as LTRM’s or Long Term Removable Mounts. The PIVOT cases provide protection against shocks and moisture, and feature an integrated channel built in for the connection to the mount making the connection and adjustment an effortless task. It only takes one hand to connect/disconnect the PIVOT case to its base, and to rotate/adjust the attached EFB in the cockpit. Again, this important utility was driven by Mike’s captain suffering with a cumbersome mounting solution. “He had to hold the iPad, loosen the knob, adjust it, and then tighten it back down in that spot, and knew then I didn’t want that for the rest of my career.”
The fact that the EFB case is separate from the mounting base means that the system can accommodate new tablets with different dimensions as they hit the market. All that is needed is a new PIVOT case to attach to the current universal mounting plate using their patented technology. The unique sound of the “Click” connection signals the user it is firmly locked in place. “By taking this approach, we basically future-proofed our customers’ EFB mounting systems,” said Schulter. “Not only does this feature save money, but it minimizes effort and confusion common to integrating a new EFB into the cockpit.” This approach also allows users to migrate from current to new EFBs at a pace their operation can manage, without crew distraction. There’s no imperative to change out everything at once due to hardware or fit issues. Now, suction cups aren’t the only EFB mounting options offered by FlyBoys. The LTRM’s that attach to a variety of cockpit window frames are considered portable by the FAA’s EFB guidance known as AC 120-76D. Many airlines have adopted the LTRM for its value and performance and ease of deployment.
But, for many just starting EFB, there is no doubt that PIVOT’s suction cup option is an extremely popular option as it is affordable, easy to use, and very durable.
“Our suction cup costs $48 at retail and it can last four years or more,” Schulter said. “So, for what amounts to around a dollar a month, you have a great way to mount your iPad in the airplane, car, office or wherever you want to use it.” Note: Although FlyBoys does provide some iPad cockpit power solutions, the PIVOT system does not include them.
The best part is that PIVOT suction cups can be attached in all kinds of aircraft, whatever their vintage and if you can’t find a place for that, there is a PIVOT legstrap that can do the job. “One of our biggest fans uses his PIVOT to mount an iPad EFB in his DC-3, it’s very cool to see where we started and where we’ve gone in such a short time” said Schulter.