Business & GA

Choosing An EFB For Your Bizjet

By James Careless | June 1, 2004

Electronic flight bags (EFBs) are quickly becoming a fixture in today's business jet cockpits. Small wonder: lightweight laptop or notebook computer-based EFBs can replace heavy paper manuals, charts and check lists. Purpose-built, cockpit-mounted EFBs also can provide corporate pilots with dynamic information such as en- route and approach charts, real-time weather and electronic equipment manuals—all in a small package. In addition, avionics original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), Honeywell and Rockwell Collins, have incorporated EFB features into primary front panel displays.

"An EFB is certainly a great improvement over a flight bag weighing 30 to 40 pounds [17 to 18 kg]," says John Barker, CMC Electronics' commercial aviation marketing manager responsible for EFBs. "Anything that can be put on paper can be stored electronically in an EFB."

Given that weight and space are issues in any business cockpit, EFB manufacturers have been "seeing demand for business jet EFBs grow steadily over the past few years," adds Tim Murphy, Flight Deck Resources' vice president of sales and marketing. "Business pilots really want this technology."

Selecting an EFB can be a complex task, however. In the United States one can choose among three classes, reflecting a unit's capability and degree of integration into the aircraft. Within two of these classes business aircraft pilots face many choices. They can use a laptop computer, a tablet PC or even a handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) like a Palm Pilot, Handspring or iPAQ. They also can choose push-button input, QWERTY keyboard or a pen-based touch screen.

In an ideal world, the EFB would sit in a docking port connected to an aircraft's flight management system (FMS). After landing, the business pilot could remove it for reprogramming in the convenience of his home or hotel room and then redock the EFB just before his next takeoff.

In the real world, however, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules regarding EFBs (AC 120-76A) make this an impossible dream. Any piece of hardware allowed to have two-way communication with an FMS has to be an FAA-certified, fully integrated "Class 3" EFB, running DO-178B, Level C, or higher software and using an FMS operating at the same (not a higher) DO-178B software level. The device can't be removed at flight's end.

But a two-way link with the FMS could be useful in easing pilot workload. The pilot, for example, could send information from an approach plate to the FMS, which could build the approach into the flight plan, relieving the pilot from manually punching the information into the FMS.

Although corporate pilots are adding EFBs to their in-flight tool kits, there are still unanswered questions, such as the management of document revision, says Phil Benedict, a Teledyne Controls vice president. Teledyne last year acquired Spirent's EFB business. The company's single-box, Class 2 configuration is certified on the Airbus 330 and its Class 1 device on most Boeing aircraft. Teledyne, for now, is more focused on the air transport and military markets.

Class System

There is a world of difference between Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3 EFBs. To explain the distinctions, FAA last year released an advisory circular (AC 120-76A), which can be found at www.airweb.faa.gov/avr/afs/afs410/ac120-76.rtf.

"A Class 1 EFB is an off-the-shelf computer platform, like a laptop computer or a tablet PC," says Barker. "It sits on your lap in flight and has to be stowed during takeoff and landing." Class 1 EFBs typically run applications such as a document reader for electronic flight manuals, standard operating procedures and minimum equipment lists (MELs).

"In contrast, a Class 2 EFB can be a purpose-built device or an adapted laptop or tablet PC with an improved display for use in daylight, and perhaps a ruggedized hard drive," says Barker. "Unlike a Class 1, a Class 2 EFB is designed to be mounted somewhere in the cockpit within easy reach of the pilot. Functionally, it's as close to a Class 3 as you can get without being integrated with the aircraft's onboard flight systems."

Class 2 EFBs, though removable from the aircraft, require a permanent mounting device that must be FAA-certified. Class 2 devices may be attractive as retrofit options and are more easily modifiable than are Class 3 systems.

But can Class 1 and 2 EFBs show GPS-derived "ownship" icons on maps and charts? There are two ways of using the ownship icon: for airborne applications such as approach charts and for surface applications such as airport maps.

According to an FAA official, "ownship position is allowed on Class 1 or 2 EFB systems for surface operations, provided that the EFB meets [the new technical standard order], TSO-C165." The official adds: "The minimum safety standard for ownship on the surface for misleading information was considered `minor,' with at least RTCA DO-178B, Level D, software." Class 1 and 2 EFBs, however, are excluded from hosting applications showing airborne ownship position.

Yoke-Mounted

Most Class 1 and Class 2 EFBs are add-ons to a business jet's cockpit—devices the pilots bring on board after the plane has been delivered from the factory. The Northstar CT-1000G Class 2 EFB built by CMC Electronics, however, comes pre-installed in the center of the pilot's yoke on Gulfstream IV-SPs and G550s.

"We selected the CT-1000 EFB because its controls were based on standard avionics design," says Tom Horne, Gulfstream's senior experimental test pilot. "You don't want to struggle with a different input style when you're busy in the cockpit. Besides, it's hard to use a pointing device on a small screen in less than ideal conditions." The CT-1000G is controlled using push buttons and directional keys mounted along the display's outer frame. It supports charting and other functions.

"We also chose the Northstar because it mounts on the yoke without getting in the way of the other control screens," Horne says. "This is a very secure location that I've tested personally in flight. It keeps the CT-1000G firmly in place even in turbulence."

In addition to the mount location, there are other factors to consider when buying an EFB, according to Divya Chandra, an engineering psychologist studying EFBs for the U.S. Department of Transportation's Volpe Center. In a 2003 paper entitled, "A Tool for Structured Evaluation of Electronic Flight Bag Usability," Chandra suggested the following criteria for assessing EFBs:

  • Physical ease of use;

  • Visual, audio, and tactile characteristics;

  • Movement between pages;

  • Number of inputs to complete a task;

  • Ease of accessing functions and options;

  • Manipulating data/content, e.g., panning;

  • Susceptibility to error;

  • Error recovery;

  • Graphical icons/symbols;

  • Formatting and layout;

  • Use of color;

  • Language, terms, abbreviations;

  • Feedback (system state, alerts, modes);

  • Labels and controls;

  • Responsiveness; and

  • Automation (if any).

These were just her "high level" criteria for assessing an EFB's "general usability": for a detailed report, go to www.volpe.dot.gov/opsad/efb/tool.html.

Some EFB Vendors To Consider

Advanced Data Research (ADR), Rochester Hills, Mich., has sold more than 3,800 EFBs to date, says Jeff Geraci, ADR's vice president of business development. "The core of our business is the FG 4000 EFB," he says. "It is a Class 2 EFB operating on a modified 866-MHz Pentium III Fujitsu tablet PC with an 8.4-inch color display." The FG 4000 runs all Jeppesen charting products such as FliteDeck, FliteStar and FliteMap. For weather ADR uses WSI's InFlight satellite weather system. ADR modifies the pen tablet for brightness and night flight dimming to meet the requirements of the flight deck.

ADR also offers the 600-MHz Pentium III FG 5000 EFB and the company's new FG 8000 remote display. The FG 8000 is a color touch screen that can be mounted in the center of a yoke and connected to a remote PC/onboard server by wire up to 12 feet (3.6 meters) away. These run Jeppesen and WSI software products.

At CMC Electronics, Saint Lambert, Quebec, the Northstar CT-1000G EFB "is coming to the end of its production run," says Barker. "In its place is a similarly priced new Class 2 EFB dubbed the CMA-1100," now in advanced preproduction mode. This purpose-built EFB uses a touch screen and/or avionics-style, line-select keys that provide pilots a choice when accessing or navigating through EFB software applications. It also allows the user to switch between various in-cabin video inputs and to see what's on the other pilot's CMA-1100 display. Additionally, it features a hot-pluggable connector that allows the unit to connect to aircraft power and data feeds. Pushing a line-select key generates a menu of functions for the pilot to choose from. Each key supports a different menu. "The CMA-1100 features an intuitive Windows-based user interface with backlit `FMS-style' line-select keys," Barker adds. A single push of a line-select key generates a menu of functions; each key supports a different menu.

Flight Deck Resources, Irvine, Calif., makes three Class 2 EFBs—the SkyTab 770, SkyTab 800 and the SkyTab 900R. "The SkyTab 770 is a proprietary `flight deck management system' flat panel that features a 1-GHz Transmeta Crusoe processor and a 8.4-inch color display," Murphy says. "The SkyTab 800 is based on a modified Fujitsu tablet PC with an aviation-quality, 10.4-inch display. And the SkyTab 900R is loaded on a Panasonic Toughbook ruggedized laptop with a 10.4-inch display that can be tilted for either laptop or tablet-style use." All SkyTab EFBs are loaded with Chartax or Jepp-View (digital charts) and WxWork real-time weather maps based on data transmitted by XM Satellite Radio.

Most EFBs use Jeppesen's electronic approach charts; however the Englewood, Colo., pioneer—now a Boeing subsidiary—also has developed its own branded "EFB" software. In addition to its software on the Class 3 B777 EFB, the company is developing Class 1 and Class 2 bundles.

"We are taking all the paper normally found on a flight deck and converting it to an electronic format," says Eric Anderson, Jeppesen's public relations specialist. "We've also enhanced our aircraft performance analysis so that you don't just enter the make and model of aircraft you are flying, but the actual tail number. Our database is so detailed that we can give the performance characteristics and projections for actual individual aircraft."

Jeppesen's EFB applications also include cabin video surveillance and taxi position awareness. The software can be run on either tablet or laptop PCs.

Milwaukee-based Astronautics Corp. of America, which supplies the EFB hardware used on the Boeing 777, also has prototyped a Class 2 Pilot Information Display (PID). Available this summer, it would be appropriate for high-end corporate jets such as Gulfstreams and Challengers, says Bill Ruhl, regional marketing manager.

The 10.4-inch, Class 2 PID is a Windows-based, single-box installation with a sealed hard drive. It supports one-way communications with the aircraft over at least two ARINC 429 buses. One 429 bus would receive data from the FMS, used for selecting approach charts, and the second would support operational communications. The device features dedicated function and programmable line-select keys, a touch screen, virtual keyboard, and portrait or landscape operation with brightness and power controls. Astronautics' PID also includes two Ethernet ports for functions such as data loading, and interfaces to both digital and analog cameras, as well as one universal serial bus and an external keyboard and printer.

Universal Avionics Systems, of Tucson, Ariz., offers a Class 3 EFB called the Universal Cockpit Display. The UCD includes a remote server and a tablet-style terminal with a 8.4-inch color touch screen. It can provide the ownship icon on en-route, approach and runway charts. Departure and arrival airport information from the FMS automatically triggers the UCD to bring up the appropriate approach and terminal charts. And the display also accepts video inputs. The UCD is approved on the Falcon 50 EX, Global Express, Gulfstream IVs and Vs, and will be certified with the Cessna Bravo, Sovereign and XLS.

Front Panel EFBs

Electronic flight bag (EFB) presentations such as approach charts and uplinked weather also can be provided on the primary, front panel displays—the approach taken by Honeywell and Rockwell Collins on high-end business jets. Both companies offer EFB features as enhancements to the display offerings on their respective integrated avionics platforms, Primus Epic and Pro Line 21.

This core avionics approach has advantages over dedicated systems because it provides "all the data necessary for situational awareness integrated on one display," says Chris Dusard, leader of flight information services at Honeywell's Business, Regional and General Aviation unit. Honeywell and Collins provide electronic Jeppesen charts and enhanced maps, along with other information, on large-format multifunction displays (MFDs) in the pilot's forward field of view.

The charting function is a new component of Honeywell's Integrated Navigation (INAV) display capability built on Primus Epic. Gulfstream has been flight testing the feature and has optimized it for the company's PlaneView cockpit. Part of a "mini cert" that should be completed in the second quarter of 2004, the enhancement would be available first on the G550. Dassault also plans to certify the feature on its EASy cockpit. INAV also provides terrain avoidance information, en-route and terminal area obstacle displays, and geopolitical maps. Honeywell plans to add uplinked graphical weather, based on its Weather Information Network (WINN) technology.

Collins' Integrated Flight Information System (IFIS) provides en-route and approach charts, maps and graphical weather (see photo above) as an integral part of the flight deck, not as an add-on, stresses Galen Kyes, product manager for business and regional systems. The IFIS file server unit interfaces to Pro Line 21 MFDs via high-speed Ethernet.

The first aircraft manufacturer to select IFIS is Cessna Aircraft for the CJ3, which is expected to be certified this month. Cessna's customers will decide which features to turn on. IFIS uses Class 3 hardware and the most demanding, Type C, software in the sense of the EFB advisory circular. This allows the company to use the ownship icon for situational awareness in both ground and airborne display applications. Developed to Level C of DO-178B, IFIS listens to the Level B flight management system to line up the correct approach charts but does not have a two-way FMS connection.

Collins also plans to retrofit IFIS on a Falcon 20 and 50 fitted with the Pro Line Continuum cockpit upgrade package.

The company, in addition, is developing a Class 3 EFB that will display electronic charting and graphical weather information on a side-mounted, touch screen. Presentation of electronic manuals would be a growth feature. The dedicated device, which also could be developed as a Class 2 EFB, would be appropriate for older cockpits or for "other people's flight decks," as it avoids the modification of existing flight deck displays, says Kyes. Collins expects this option to be available in the first quarter of 2005.

Spurred by customer requests, Honeywell also is studying INAV aftermarket options, such as adding capability to the Primus Epic CDSR cockpit upgrade package and designing a Class 2 or Class 3 standalone system. Such a device, although not perhaps physically integrated into the aircraft, would need to be at least "functionally integrated into the aircraft and synchronized to where you are" in order to deliver benefits, says Dusard.

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