KLM Royal Dutch Airlines recently took delivery of its 10th Boeing 777-200ER passenger jet. The final two long-range twinjets on order will begin to arrive in 2006. All of them will feature dual Boeing electronic flight bags (EFBs).
Why make such a big investment in such difficult times? "The business case we looked at was the performance calculations," explains Michiel de Nooy, B777 pilot and vice president of KLM's 777 unit. Because of the electronic application's accuracy, compared with the manual approach, aircraft can carry "a few hundred kilos to a ton more payload," de Nooy says. That translates into obvious economic benefits. Boeing touts the EFB tool as able to determine the optimal speed and engine setting for the aircraft in any weather, on any runway or section of runway, with any payload. And, de Nooy adds, the calculator saves a lot of time.
The performance application, for example, employs exact temperature, wind and runway condition data from the outside world, so it comes close to optimizing the aircraft power, speed and loading configuration for takeoff and landing. It helps the pilot set trim and thrust settings, V speeds and minimum flap retraction altitude, as well as determine landing field and climb performance. While normal error margins are retained in the electronic calculations, there are no "hidden" margins to accommodate the larger inaccuracies involved in manual procedures. The flight bag is paying for itself, de Nooy asserts, mainly through reduced engine wear and tear and increased payloads on payload-critical destinations.
Perhaps the most popular feature is the airport moving map with a GPS-referenced aircraft icon. KLM flight crews use these maps in low-speed taxi before takeoff and after landing to see where they are at a given moment on the airport surface and where they are supposed to go next. Resolution is good enough to see the airport runways, taxiways, aprons, buildings and gates. The maximum map error is expected to be 66 to 82 feet (20 to 25 m).
Although crewmen can access the EFB via a cursor control device, display buttons or touchscreen, pilots prefer the touchscreen because it's quicker and more direct to go through the menu that way. The buttons are large enough for a gloved pilot. The use of a touchscreen makes the system easy to learn, de Nooy says. Pilots, for example, can pan the taxi map image by simply touching the screen and dragging a finger. Crews catch on quickly and require only half a day of training, he says.
At this point, the carrier uses taxi maps side by side with paper charts. The pilot not taxiing looks at the route on the paper map and the pilot taxiing checks off each step on the EFB. KLM is confident the tool will reduce the possibility of runway incursions and wrong turns along the path to the runway.
As with any new piece of equipment, there have been teething pains since the first aircraft were delivered in November 2003. The displays have been known to freeze up on the ground and in the air. (This glitch had involved the interfaces between software programs.) It never caused a problem, however, as every aircraft has two EFBs and the carrier is not totally dependent on them, de Nooy states. But Boeing has solved these initial problems, he adds, and has developed an automatic reboot mechanism that detects when a lockup is imminent and makes software adjustments to ensure system stability.
Two other EFB applications currently are used in flight: video surveillance and electronic documents. From a seated position pilots can view full-screen or split-screen, black-and-white video images of the area near the flightdeck door, as some European authorities require. KLM uses a three-camera surveillance system that can be expanded to 16 cameras.
KLM so far has digitized two volumes of operations manuals, the minimum equipment list (MEL), flight crew training manual, and quick reference handbook. It also wants to digitize its aircraft maintenance logs and flight logs. Currently the crew uses the EFB en route only to check items in the MEL or operations manuals and to calculate landing distances in preparation for touchdown. KLM is taking a conservative, step-by-step approach to eliminating paper manuals. In fact, it extended the period for retaining a paper backup "so we are sure the system is fine, and we can do without it," de Nooy says.
The first step toward a paperless cockpit will be to eliminate paper operating manuals, something the carrier expects to do soon. As this takes place, the airline will save not only weight but document reproduction and distribution costs. Having the documents in electronic form also opens the door to electronically loading and updating information, even from a remote site, using a secure Internet connection. Electronic transmission of data via wireless Gatelink from the company's back office directly to the airplane would produce "tremendous savings," he says.
In the future, KLM plans to add digitized approach and terminal area charts for the EFB and is about to start a feasibility study. The electronic flight bag is an MEL item, but there have been no dispatch-related delays because the paper backups are in place.
As Boeing's launch customer, KLM also has been able to help fine-tune the EFB. The carrier's 200 B777 pilots have accumulated about 36,000 flight hours on the type so far. One suggestion was to more clearly distinguish between taxiways and runways on the moving map, de Nooy says. Boeing responded by using different colors and outlining to increase the contrast between the two areas. KLM also suggested enhancements to the electronic document search tool concerning search capabilities, graphics and large tables.
CMC Corp www.cmcelectronics.ca
Flight Deck Resources www.flightdeck.aero
Jeppesen (Boeing subsidiary) www.jeppesen.com
Lido (Lufthansa subsidiary) www.lhsystems.com
Rockwell Collins www.rockwellcollins.com
Teledyne Controls www.teledyne-controls.com
Universal Avionics Systems www.uasc.com