-T / T / +T | Comment(s)

Friday, September 1, 2006

EFBs: Finding a Comfort Level

The day will come when Class 3 electronic flight bags (EFBs) will be more common in commercial aircraft. Meanwhile, many carriers are choosing Class 2 as an entry point.

David Jensen

Ultimately, aircraft operators want all the capabilities a technology can offer. With electronic flight bags, that would mean installing a Class 3 unit, as designated by FAA's Advisory Circular (AC) 120-76A, providing certification guidance. Fully integrated into the cockpit, Class 3 EFBs are viewed as installed, avionics-quality equipment that requires airworthiness approval. With appropriate applications software, they can be used for a range of communication, navigation and surveillance functions.

However, many commercial operators and a number of corporate and private aircraft owners are opting for Class 2 EFBs. These are less capable but also less costly than Class 3 units, and their certification is less stringent. Class 2 EFBs, for example, do not require compliance to RTCA DO-160, and only their mounting device and power connection require airworthiness approval. FAA regards them as commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems.

In addition, Class 2 EFBs can accommodate most available applications typically associated with the paperless cockpit. They can accept Types A and B software (as designated by AC 120-76A), which can be approved by the FAA's local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). Type C applications software, used exclusively in Class 3 EFBs, must meet flight standards approval to the DO-178B, Level C, standard, the same used for software in such critical avionics as the flight management system (FMS). Examples of Type C applications are the presentation of ownship positioning on a map or chart (considered a navigational aid) and a two-way interface with other avionics. With Class 2 EFBs information can be received from other onboard systems but not transferred back, with the exception of airborne communications addressing and reporting system (ACARS) messages.

Middle Ground

In short, while a significant number of Class 3 EFBs have been fielded, Class 2 electronic flight bags currently offer many operators a comfortable, middle ground in EFB evolution. These EFBs, after all, can provide many applications--from map presentation to cabin video display to electronic document viewing. To thrust forward at once into the full range of EFB capabilities could require extensive flight crew training and, to install and certify, deplete an operator's bank account.

"We think the Class 2 [EFB] fills a niche," says Bill Ruhl, regional marketing manager with Astronautics Corp. of America. Customers interested in the Class 2 EFB even include ones already operating with Astronautics' Class 3 system, who want to expand EFB use to other aircraft in their fleets, he adds.

"We see a large market for Class 2 electronic flight bags in commercial, business and general aviation," says Ken Crowhurst, executive vice president and managing director of Chicago-based navAero. Though costing less than Class 3 systems, Class 2 EFBs remain quite capable, allowing one-way connectivity to the aircraft, for example, "to do data positioning."

Evidence of corporate aircraft interest in Class 2 EFBs can be drawn from navAero, as well as from CMC Electronics and Memphis, Tenn.-based Paperless Cockpit Inc. Offering its FliteServe C2-2 electronic flight bag, Paperless Cockpit lists Kellogg, Coca Cola, Office Depot and Valero Energy among its Class 2 EFB customers. CMC has sold some 200 of its PilotView Class 2 EFBs exclusively to the bizjet market, primarily to operators of upper-end Global Expresses, Gulfstream IVs and Vs and Falcon 900s, according to Norm Pickering, marketing manager-commercial aviation. Pilatus, Gulfstream and Dassault offer PilotView as a standard option.

PilotView is a descendant of the NorthStar CT1000 EFB; CMC sold NorthStar but kept the EFB technology and improved on it. It added a larger, touchscreen display (discarding the stylus), video application and ARINC 429 to accommodate moving map and interface with the flight management system and GPS receiver. In addition to the touchscreen, PilotView also includes a hidden keyboard that slides down from the electronic display and processor unit. Connectivity options include Ethernet, 429, data link, USB and RS232. PilotView also has two built-in wireless antennas, allowing pilots to, for example, access e-mail wirelessly in hotels that have a local area network (LAN).

The CMC EFB includes an expansion module unit (EMU). It accommodates additional software functions and enables high-speed communications, in addition to the original intent in the CT1000 of converting 28-volt power for the EDU. The company also wants to expand into the commercial aviation market.

Milwaukee-based Astronautics wants to expand in the EFB marketplace, too, and is introducing a Class 2 system, based on the Class 3 hardware it has been supplying to Boeing since 2003. Boeing has ordered or made commitments for approximately 1,700 Class 3 EFBs from Astronautics, and offers the Class 3 EFB as a standard option on its production aircraft, as well as a product for retrofit on B777, B767, B757, B737NG and B747-400 aircraft. Boeing also has installed and certified a Class 3 EFB on the Boeing Business Jet and is doing so for the 787.

Ruhl claims Astronautics' new EFB is "avionics quality" and thus "eliminates the obsolescence factor, which can be common among Class 2 EFBs." Running on 28 volts DC, the Class 2 system is a "single-box" unit that supports multiple ARINC 429 and Ethernet interfaces, with the option of supporting a wireless interface, he says. It also can optionally accept Linux, as well as Windows software.

Perhaps what most distinguishes the Astronautics system is the high-contrast display module, which the company has taken from the EFB it is developing for Boeing's new 787. The touch-screen display (which also can support an external keyboard) provides viewing angles of up to 80 degrees in all axes and incorporates patented, light-emitting diode (LED) backlighting. LED bulbs run cooler than the incandescent lighting in many EFBs, and because heat adversely affects processor speed, they allow the Astronautics EFB processor to run faster. "The LEDs are also more reliable, and if you lose a couple of elements, the display still performs," says Ruhl.

Astronautics' first Class 2 EFB customer is the Chinese carrier, Shenzhen Airlines. The 14-year-old, largely private domestic airline (with two international routes) was the first Chinese carrier to order the B737-900. And, according to Ruhl, it will be the first in China to outfit its aircraft with Class 2 EFBs. Shenzhen initially plans to equip 15 of its 32-aircraft fleet, which also includes various B737 models, including 737-Classics. It further plans to double its fleet size in five years but, preferring Class 2 EFBs, it has not ordered new B737s with standard Class 3 systems.

The first Shenzhen EFB installation--developed by Franklin, Wis.-based ECS--is scheduled for December. Each Shenzhen aircraft will have two EFBs that operate independently but provide cross-talk capability. This allows each crew member to view the other's application and supports the cross-loading of databases. If an EFB is replaced, the new unit will be automatically uploaded to have the same database as the remaining EFB.

The Shenzhen EFB program faces hurdles, however. First, China's regulatory authority, the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), has yet to finalize the development of its certification criteria for EFBs, and this could delay approval. The authority, working closely with Shenzhen, may choose to adopt the FAA's advisory circular (AC 120-76A) language or use it as a guide.

Also Shenzhen requires that the approach charts displayed on its EFBs be in the Chinese language. (This preference for local language use instead of English could imply a trend; Japan's ANA and JAL airlines have indicated that, for the B787s they have ordered, they would prefer electronic approach charts in Japanese.) No charting software in Chinese exists, so Astronautics will cooperate with the Aeronautics Information Service Center (AISC) to produce acceptable domestic electronic charts in Chinese. Despite the obstacles, Shenzhen plans to begin flying EFB-equipped aircraft in January 2007.

In addition to chart presentation, Shenzhen wants to use its EFBs to show graphical weather, information from manuals, and video from a camera in the cabin, pointing at the cockpit door. For the latter application, AD Aerospace will install its new Internet protocol (IP) camera. This includes an Ethernet interface and 8-Gbyte flash memory, providing up to 27 hours of video storage. AD Aerospace plans to have the IP camera certified in December, ready for the first customer, U.S. carrier JetBlue, according to John Dolan, the firm's executive vice president and managing director.

Astronautics plans to expand its Class 2 EFB offering. "We're looking at a version that would use an existing display in the cockpit," says Ruhl. "It would be primarily for the helicopter market," in which the aircraft have limited space.

Miami Air

Preceding Astronautics in the Class 2 arena, navAero has had its tBag C22 on the market for about two years. The unit also includes Ethernet connectivity, along with USB and serial RS-232/422 ports. It employs a 1.6-GHz Pentium M processor and, through a teaming agreement with Jeppesen, can come equipped with various software applications.

The tBag C22, initially fielded in a Miami Air B737NG, has been in operation for about six months. That's the approximate time FAA requires operators to use both the electronic manuals in the EFB and their paper manuals; upon receiving operational approval, they are allowed to offload the paper manuals.

According to Capt. Kurt Kamrad, Miami Air's vice president-flight operations, the company plans to fit its six B737-800s with navAero EFBs. The charter carrier--approved for Part 121 operation, as well--also operates two B727s, which it plans to replace with B737-400s. "The STC [for EFBs on the B737-800] doesn't apply to the -400," says Kamrad. Still, Miami Air may choose to fit its entire fleet with EFBs. Miami-based Avionics Support Group [ASG], which secured an EFB supplemental type certificate (STC) for -800, "said they would like to STC the -400, too," says Kamrad.

Miami Air has the EFB connected to a secureLINK wireless data transfer system, developed by Miami-based Avionica. "With this system, we have an onboard server, so we eventually can use Iridium satcom with the EFB and eliminate [the use of] ACARS," says Kamrad. He adds that Iridium would be cheaper to use. "Eliminating ACARS is our goal."

Given its varied operations throughout the world, transporting everything from sports teams to military personnel, Miami Air's desire for satcom is understandable. "We currently have aircraft in Kurdistan, Mongolia and Kuwait, to name just a few destinations," says Kamrad. "With satcom, we can send and receive e-mails around the world."

Miami Air also aims to use Jeppesen's electronic approach plates. "And we expect both low-altitude and high-altitude en route charts, including a moving map display," says Kamrad. The carrier also intends to discard all paper manuals "and get rid of printing costs and the cost of updating."

But Miami Air's main goal, according to Kamrad, is to acquire the Boeing Performance Tool (BPT) software application that will allow the carrier to readily make weight-and-balance and takeoff performance calculations. "It will allow us to take off with reduced thrust, saving us a lot of money," he says. Miami Air expects to add the BPT application before installing satcom.

Virgin America

Virgin America, the new domestic startup airline planning launch in the coming months, will install the tBag C22 Class 2 EFB on all its Airbus aircraft. "We'll have the first electronic flight bags in the world to be certified on Airbus 319s and 320s," claims Joe Houghton, chief pilot. The airline intends to install EFBs on the 34 Airbus aircraft it has on order (with options for 71 more A319s and A320s).

To ease the workload, as well as make operations safer and more efficient, Virgin America plans to include Jeppesen's electronic charts, along with application software by NavTech that provides quick weight-and-balance and takeoff performance data. "In case of a runway change, our pilots can calculate takeoff data in just 32 seconds instead of 5 minutes," says Houghton.

The airline initially plans few other EFB functions, preferring to "keep it simple and look for a rate of return from one or two applications," he says.

EFBs are also meant to eliminate the need to lug heavy leather satchels full of paper. To Houghton and Virgin America, this represents a quality-of-life benefit. "We're trying to make Virgin an airline where people love to go to work," he says. "If that means, instead of manuals, the pilots can carry workout clothes, something to wear for an evening out, or a laptop to use in [their] hotel rooms, well, everyone's happy." Additionally, and quite seriously, he adds: "We also want to reduce back injuries [caused by carrying heavy flight bags]."

The airline is producing e-publications software meant to replace paper manuals, a feature that the carrier believes also will improve piloting habits. "An industry study found that pilots are four times more likely to look up information in an electronic flight bag than using a [paper] manual," says the chief pilot. The carrier is training its pilots, using removable EFBs in simulators at Airbus' training center in Miami.

FedEx

Unlike many other carriers, FedEx Express is an EFB veteran, having used onboard laptops as far back as the early 1990s. Currently, the air freight operator is in "transition mode" with EFBs, according to Grover Trask, an MD-11 captain and FedEx's EFB program manager. "We still use some old airport performance laptop computers (APLCs), which are Class 1 devices." By the late `90s, FedEx upgraded its MD-10/11 and Airbus fleets with Class 2 pilot access terminals (PATs) made by Spirent (now Teledyne). That's when the carrier also began operating Teledyne's Titan onboard file server, which functions as the central server for onboard display devices like the electronic flight bag.

FedEx is in the midst of a third EFB upgrade, employing the navAero Class 2 system. The carrier expected the tBag C22 to be STC'd on the MD-10 in late September. It then plans to outfit its MD-10/11 fleet of about 100 aircraft over an eight-to-18-month period, while simultaneously seeking an STC for the Airbus A300 and A310s, of which FedEx has approximately 110. It intends to install EFBs in its entire fleet, which also includes more than 90 B727s and 28 DC-10s. "We plan about five months for the approvals for each fleet," says Trask.

FedEx's overall aim is to deliver information quickly to its flight crews around the world, and to achieve this, will employ new EFBs, the Titan system and Teledyne's Wireless Gatelink. Trask explains why a change had to be made.

"Our route structure is unbelievably complicated [and] we have aircraft that may not come back to Memphis [FedEx's base] for three or four weeks," he says. "As a flight crewmember I want to get my flight manual updates now; I don't want to be out on a long trip and miss an update."

"Right now, we update our [electronic] manuals manually; we can update our fleet in about five days," he adds. "But electronically, we could do it almost instantly." FedEx's electronic solution would have the manual updates delivered wirelessly to onboard servers, as its aircraft enter gates anywhere in the world.

A rapid delivery system--to update, for example, the Lufthansa Systems electronic airport and route charts FedEx plans to use--would add to the weight-and-balance and aircraft-performance applications the carrier has been using in EFBs for years.

FedEx is in a hurry to achieve its rapid delivery, which primarily is why it selected a Class 2 EFB. "The reason is certification," says Trask. "We wanted to update rapidly, and you can't do that with Class 3."

Not to Forget Class 3

Of course, not all commercial operators choose Class 2 EFBs. "We're getting most of our inquiries for Class 2 and Class 3," says John Kobielusz, marketing manager of Teledyne Controls, which has offered electronic flight bags since acquiring Spirent some two years ago. Certification of the company's Class 2 system is ongoing and expected to be completed by the end of this year, according to Kobielusz.

Teledyne Controls' AvVantage Information Solutions can supply electronic flight bags in all three classes, in addition to applications software: an onboard performance system, graphical fault reporting and document, chart and video viewing, as well as a program that provides an integrated EFB operating environment.

Teledyne is developing the Onboard Information Terminal (OIT), a Class 3 system for Airbus aircraft. An Airbus official told Avionics Magazine that details of the EFB's utilization and schedule are "currently under review" and probably won't be known until October.

Recognizing the need to offer a family of EFBs, navAero "has a product roadmap and is working on an upgrade option to the Class 2 hardware for operators who choose to migrate to a Class 3 solution," says Crowhurst. The new system would incorporate another certificated processor running Linux software. "An interface will allow the operator to switch back and forth between the Linux computer and the Windows computer," he explains. NavAero plans to have the Class 3 EFB on the market next year.

Among the Class 3 EFB operators, UPS has launched perhaps the most ambitious program to employ electronic flight bags. The freight carrier is working with Phoenix-based ACSS, which is developing software for Surface Area Movement Management (SAMM) and airborne-managed Merging & Spacing (M&S), using automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B). The SafeRoute software is designed to help UPS save fuel and reduce noise and emissions at its base in Louisville, Ky. (see story, page 14).

"We're planning merging and spacing with continuous descent arrivals [CDAs] to a final approach fix," says Capt. Bob Hilb, UPS' advanced flight systems manager. The key, he adds, is to "not have the controller intervene and vector aircraft." With greater situational awareness and special software, UPS flight crews will be able to manage their own spacing and make more direct and efficient approaches with less speed fluctuation.

ACSS is upgrading its traffic alert collision avoidance system (TCAS) to include SafeRoute software, which will take the traffic data the TCAS receives from area 1090-MHz transponders and includes ADS-B information. Combined with calculations uplinked via ACARS from a ground unit with special spacing software, the onboard SafeRoute software can then determine the optimum control settings for a CDA. ACSS hopes to have SafeRoute approved by mid-2007.

UPS views its Boeing (Astronautics) Class 3 EFB as a cost-effective means of retrofitting legacy aircraft. However, UPS is looking beyond ADS-B. "With Class 3 you can also put in CPDLC [controller pilot data link communications]," says Hilb. "We're not sure about the U.S., but we're sure there will be a CPDLC mandate in Europe." UPS would be able to add CPDLC as an EFB function, "and that helps justify the cost for Class 3," he adds. "Ultimately, we expect CPDLC to feed the merging and spacing function," in place of ACARS.

UPS also plans to have a surface moving map in its EFBs. FAA's Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), a data-driven program to improve airline safety, "found that the only effective way to greatly reduce runway incursions is with moving map displays with traffic," says Hilb.

"We're going to add traffic to the moving map display, along with some runway alerting," says Hilb. He points out, however, that "you must worry about more than taxiing aircraft--you also need to know about the aircraft on final."

UPS looks to have a test flight of the EFB with SafeRoute installed in a B757 by November. It plans a certification flight in April and to have the STC for the package in June, when installations are scheduled to begin. "We will get the STC for the 757, 767, and 747-400, 117 aircraft," says Hilb. "We're buying some more aircraft, and of course, we'll have EFBs on the 10 A380s we have on order." The carrier plans to make a decision on its remaining fleets some time next year.

UPS intends to start training its pilots on the new systems in early 2007. For such an ambitious program, the timing of training can be critical. "We don't want to start too soon, before we have equipped aircraft to fly, but we can't start too late either," says Hilb.

Despite UPS' ambitious effort, FedEx's longstanding use of EFBs and the new carriers adopting the technology, many still believe electronic flight bags are too long in coming. Miami Air's Kamrad comments, "Commercial aviation is way behind in using computers in the cockpit."

Takeoff Calculations
Among the many applications for electronic flight bags (EFBs), real-time takeoff performance calculation is becoming one of the most commonplace. It can directly impact the bottom line by allowing maximum payload and reduced maintenance.

Pilots traditionally have used runway analysis charts (RACs) to manually determine their load restriction and takeoff settings. With runway lengths and slopes, temperature, wind speed and performance data from the flight manual, the pilot determines the maximum weight for takeoff. Pilots make corrections for such factors as head wind, parometric pressure or whether the air conditioning is in use.

Because RAC correction factors must apply over a wide range of conditions, they tend to be conservative, according to Ken Hurley, product manager for Teledyne Controls, which offers its OPS (Onboard Performance System) for EFBs. Programs such as OPS can account for all factors and calculate an exact maximum weight for takeoff conditions.

Hurley reports of a demonstration for a cargo company operating Boeing 747s in which the OPS program determined a flight could accommodate up to 20,000 more pounds. Taking on more weight means taking in more revenue.

In addition, performance software allows reduced-thrust takeoffs that reduce engine maintenance costs. The thrust settings can be made to match the exact flight conditions and aircraft configuration.

Hurley tells of an operator of B747 classics that was averaging 4.8 percent thrust reduction during operations but was required by the engine manufacturer to average 5.5 percent thrust reduction. "With performance software the operator got 11.8 percent," he reports. That not only more than satisfies the engine provider but also gains the operator more life from the engine and less repair during scheduled maintenance.

Live chat by BoldChat