Tailored, mobile applications (apps) paired with smartphones and lightweight tablets such as Apple’s iPad hosted on electronic flight bags (EFB) allow flight crews to perform many functions that were traditionally accomplished by using paper products and tools. Hundreds of aviation apps are available today to make pilots’ jobs easier in many ways, all of which enhance their flight performance. Apps provide easy access to flight paths, airports and available support services, which helps pilots fly smarter, more safely and efficiently and potentially save on fuel costs.
“Some of the most widely used EFB apps today include flight planning capabilities, weather data, airport information, navigation charts, document library, performance data, weight and balance reporting and briefings,” said Julia Larsson, director of operations EMEA at Web Manuals, Malmö, Sweden. “Needs and preferences have a stake in which EFB apps are used.”
One way apps have taken a key role in aircraft operations is by replacing paper charts, flight documents and manuals. “Pilots now have real-time information thanks to constant access to the internet and other sources,” said Oliver Maiwald, project manager of Air Navigation Pro, Lausanne, Switzerland. “The possibility to display information to the pilot in a graphical manner, rather than in plain text form, greatly improves navigation and situational awareness. Being able to synchronize information across devices, either company-wide or within the members of a flight crew performing a flight, supports the communication greatly. Since everyone is on ‘the same page’ regarding the status of the flight or operational procedures in force, communication errors or misunderstandings are less likely to happen.”
Connecting to apps at altitude means pilots are never out of touch and always have access to their favorite services. EFB apps improve communication between pilots and ground staff by providing a digital platform for exchanging information.
“This helps reduce miscommunications and improve overall efficiency,” said Stefan Baudoin Bundgaard, director of products at Web Manuals. “Also, a digital platform used for storing and accessing critical information reduces the upkeep of paper books and lightens the extra load of bringing a flight bag of physical manuals onto the aircraft for each flight. With this, the cost savings over time can be quite substantial if you count the administration staff’s time and fuel savings through the onboard weight reductions.”
What are the main apps for use on commercial operators’ aircraft today? Daniel Cook, head of marketing, Bytron Aviation Systems, Kirmington, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom, said, “That’s a tricky question to answer as there are quite a few EFB options and they can massively vary in quality, price and product features; it’s especially difficult without being biased to our own EFB.In no particular order the main ones we tend to come across that focus on a pilot’s digital briefing and journey log process are: Aviator by Boeing, Mission+, Aviobook, EFBOne by IFS and our own solution, skybook by Bytron Aviation Systems.”
Apps Aiding Pilots
Newer avionics systems are being built with connectivity in mind, allowing EFB apps to not only interchange routes or waypoints, but Maiwald predicts they’ll be able to receive critical flight parameters from on-board systems. “Besides using this data for displaying improved calculations to the pilot, EFBs will soon monitor other parameters such as current fuel onboard and alert the pilot in case of discrepancies with the expected parameters, thus helping in the decision-making processes.”
EFB apps are becoming more advanced at automating more processesEFBs are integrating with a wide range of aviation software and hardware platforms, in an effort to make life easier on the flight deck, reducing a pilot’s need to keep switching between multiple applications and reducing manual input; data can simply be added to the EFB with the tap of a button. “A current example of this is Aircraft Interface Devices which provides a link between the aircraft’s avionic system and an EFB; so data such as waypoint information or OOOI times can be grabbed automatically from the airplane, removing the requirement for manual input by the pilot,” Cook said.
Many believe EFB apps are most valuable — especially compared to paper — in the major increase in safety following document digitization. Bundgaard explains new flight procedures can be received onboard the aircraft and sent to all crew in seconds with a clear indication if they have been seen. With night-mode or dark-mode options in the EFB apps pilots can access their information without having to use a light source or risk night’s-eye adaptation in a dark cockpit.
Cook explains, “Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) data is also becoming easier to digest on EFB apps with clever filtering to provide pilots with the most relevant and crucial briefing information; improving their safety awareness. With an end-to-end EFB solution, dispatchers can easily send instant messages to make pilots aware of any vital changes to the flight plan and briefing packages.”
EFB apps can provide pilots with real-time access to more accurate and recent weather information, which allows them to better plan and execute flights. Digital flight briefings on EFB apps are more interactive than when they were originally hosted in a PDF briefing pack. For example, pilot charts now include more detailed turbulence, wind and temperature data on vertical profile charts. Weather and environment awareness is improving with near real-time interactive maps that show the route information, planned position and weather period data, ensuring pilots have the most accurate information read for their flight. Avoiding areas of unfavorable weather leads to faster and more economical routes, decreases emissions and fuel consumption, and reduces the risk of flight disruptions.
Also, EFB apps can provide pilots with information about turbulence, which allows them to plan alternative routes. This not only makes the flight smoother for passengers, but it can also save fuel by reducing the need for the aircraft to fly at lower altitudes.
“Fuel consumption monitoring at the fingertips of the pilots allows them to optimize fuel efficiency,” Larsson said. “With this information, you can adjust the aircraft’s speed, altitude and route, which reduces emissions and lowers the operating costs. Updated navigation charts help pilots to navigate more efficiently. This can support in reducing flight times and fuel consumption, as well as improve safety by reducing the risk of navigation errors.”
Certain EFBs have the capability to extract the accurate data and use it within a reporting and analytics system, to gain useful insights on not only fuel analysis, but also delays and on-time performance analysis. Using the flight data to find trends will lead to more efficiencies and observing which aircraft are performing more sustainably. Cook explains highly configurable EFBs allow fields such as fuel data to be as in-depth as the airlines require.
At Cranberry Twp., Pa.-based Automated Systems in Aircraft Performance Inc., EFB consultant and marketing manager Torie S. Tezik said her company can “preserve an aircraft’s engine life through reduced power takeoffs. ASAP STAR displays icons — such as check marks — that change color to notify users of errors and warning signs to further reduce errors. ASAP STAR provides a one-engine inoperative turn process and is the first in the industry to render and showcase them in a wide variety of formats such as YouTube videos, PDF documents, Google Earth, and text. ASAP STAR engineers help ensure that the pilot fully comprehends the turn procedure and the terrain they are flying out of.”
As helpful as apps are, they are useless unless pilots know how to correctly use and set them up. Cook believes an important aspect of EFB training is ensuring that the airline has a designated EFB manager or trainer in place that can make sure all the pilots are on the same versions of the app, arrange regular training sessions and provide pilots with the most up-to-date training material.
“In commercial operations, pilots usually don’t have much of a choice and need to go with the solution provided by their company,” Maiwald said. “Companies need to appoint an EFB administrator, who, depending on the size of the company, is also responsible for training. EFB administrators are usually in contact with EFB software developers and provide valuable feedback for future improvements to the system.”
Companies who are in the process of adopting an EFB solution should consult with the pilots about available solutions. Important questions to be answered:
– Does the EFB application provide the data and information that is important for my type of operation?
– What functions are available? Are all my operational needs covered?
– Does the system provide central management capabilities allowing for the synchronization of flight-critical information?
EFBs are here to stay. Industry experts predict in the coming years these systems will become more and more integrated in the cockpit as more advanced features are being developed.