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Monday, June 1, 2009

EFB Special Section: Installing EFBs Is No Simple Matter

A multitude of possible software applications, different interfaces and cockpit mounting considerations complicate the installation of EFBs

David Hughes

Installing an EFB system may seem like a simple matter, but it could be one of the most complicated modifications an airline will ever make to an airplane, according to industry veteran Merritte DeBuhr of ECS.

DeBuhr, who has seen the retrofit of everything from electronic flight instrument systems (EFIS) to ground proximity warning systems (EGPWS) in his long career, says EFB installations are the most complicated he has been involved in. This is one reason why DeBuhr and ECS are conducting workshops around the country for airlines and other aircraft operators to explain what is involved before carriers make a decision on how to proceed.

ECS, Franklin, Wis., designs EFB installations and arranges certification for those airlines that don’t have an engineering department or don’t want that department to do the job in-house. The company also provides mounting kits to several suppliers of EFB systems and to modification centers. ECS participated in the program at cargo carrier UPS, for example, to retrofit Class 3 EFBs on aircraft so Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) data can be displayed to pilots.

DeBuhr said one of the main reasons that EFB installations are so complicated is that an EFB computer can run a wide range of software applications. The software loaded on EFBs is limited by just two things — a pilot’s imagination and what FAA is willing to certify.

As DeBuhr notes in his workshop presentations, installing EFBs is a task that is usually underestimated because it looks and sounds simple before the aircraft owner/operator gets started.

DeBuhr said it typically takes more than a year to complete a supplemental type certification (STC) for EFB hardware and software, while most other types of systems — EFIS, ground proximity warning system, etc., take just 18 to 24 weeks. And when it comes to designing an installation, it is critical to take both software and hardware requirements into consideration before moving ahead on the plan.

ECS tells its customers that software requirements must be defined up front because software drives installation configuration and is the "real wild card" in an EFB retrofit. Defining wiring interfaces up front is another hard and fast rule because late changes typically result in significant impact to the cost and delivery schedule. Changing interfaces after the fact requires an amendment to the STC.

DeBuhr said he is a "strong proponent of Class 3 installation," meaning not an expensive, forward-fit installation, but retrofit of a lower-cost, single processor system that isn’t configured to run flight critical Type C software. The hardware in this case is certified to meet Part 25 airworthiness standards for a transport category aircraft and the approval of the EFB hardware in the aircraft becomes part of the STC. A Class 3 installation also meets RTCA DO-178B requirements for avionics software.

"The benefit of Class 3 is that it takes the aircraft operator out of the process of having to prove to an FAA principal operations inspector (POI) that the piece of equipment doesn’t cause interference with the aircraft. With a Class 2, the burden of operational approval falls on the owner and operator of the aircraft. "We take a lot of that effort and move it away from the operator," DeBuhr said.

In addition, when a Class 2 EFB system that is already approved for use in an aircraft is modified, a new operational approval must be obtained under FAA Order 8900.1, Change 47. "This creates problems," DeBuhr said. For example, the aircraft operator must arrange for a new approval when components such as the EFB motherboard, processor, RAM, hard drive or video card are changed.

It usually takes four to six hours over two days for DeBuhr to explain this to an airline. Several airlines have come back to ask for a second workshop before deciding what to do about installing EFBs, he said.

EFB Ergonomics

Other considerations involved in designing an EFB installation include making it usable in all phases of flight. Pilots prefer being able to adjust the display with one hand, and ECS can mount an articulating mounting arm depending on cockpit size and layout, display unit size and weight and other factors. It is critical to mount the EFB display in such a way that it will not induce pilot vertigo.

Usually EFBs are located on the outboard side of an airline cockpit — a place where pilots often place paper clipboards before the space is occupied by an EFB. The installation also must be placed so it doesn’t interfere with pilot egress from a window in the event of an emergency on the ground.

Some business jet operators have EFBs mounted on the pilot’s and copilot’s yokes. Pentastar Aviation, Waterford, Mich., has a patented mounting for yoke application that allows pilots to easily move the display to the angle they prefer.

Another human factor consideration is to mount the display so it is clear of a pilot’s head but close enough to be manipulated by hand, according to Goodrich Corp., which makes Class 2 and 3 EFBs. Backup power can be supplied by the aircraft’s backup bus or with batteries. However, batteries raise other installation issues that FAA was grappling with out of concern for fire safety. Goodrich said it takes three to four days to install an EFB system and this is usually done by an airline during a maintenance C check.

Also involved in EFB installations is U.S. Technical, of Fullerton, Calif. Jerry Schumacher, U.S. Technical president, said one of the things driving airlines to adopt EFBs is not only the reduction in weight and relieving pilots of having to carry chart cases, but the removal of paper. "EFBs save trees" and are in that sense a green technology, he said.

Usually, major airlines go to EFB manufacturers to discuss installations first and then those manufacturers, such as navAero, come to a firm such as U.S. Technical to help with the installation design. Smaller airlines sometimes talk directly to U.S. Technical first, however.

FAA is having a difficult time managing the wave of EFB installations, Schumacher said, in part because an EFB can do so many different things. "It’s just a laptop computer but there is a lot of software in there," he said.

Still, FAA is doing a good job, in Schumacher’s view, especially when the speed at which the technology is moving is taken into consideration. "The FAA is just trying to make sure that everyone is safe and EFB manufacturers are doing a good job of going along with what the FAA requires," he said.

DeBuhr said in his view, EFBs are still in their infancy because so few Class 2 and 3 systems have been installed and Class 1 systems in use aren’t connected to aircraft systems. Southwest Airlines, however, has been using Class 1 EFBs for more than a decade, he notes.

"Honestly I believe that everyone will have to have electronic flight bags in the future. A lot of it is driven by efficiency," DeBuhr said.

Boeing Offers Class 2 EFB

The first company to certify and integrate a Class 3 EFB on one of its aircraft models now aims to offer Class 2 EFBs on selected models for production and retrofit.

Boeing in March announced an agreement with Esterline CMC Electronics to provide CMC’s PilotView Class 2 EFB on select models. The airframer said a second EFB provider would be announced later.

In addition, Boeing said it is developing a common application suite and ground infrastructure, with subsidiary Jeppesen, for use across Class 1, 2 and 3 EFBs.

"Many Class 2 providers offer no integration, leaving it to be done by the airline," said Robert Manelski, Boeing director of Crew Information Services. "Our EFB solution is fully integrated, allowing customers the flexibility they want, with Boeing support throughout the life cycle of the product.

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