Business & GA, Commercial, Connectivity

Product Focus: Electronic Flight Bags

By by Ed McKenna | July 1, 2012
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The Apple iPad is quickly becoming as popular on the flight deck as it is in the cabins of business and air transport aircraft. The device, only now beginning to be used as a portable or Class 1 electronic flight bag (EFB) by the airlines, has already sparked the development of hundreds of aviation “apps” and catalyzed the EFB market. The use of the tablet computers is expected to grow as carriers seek to boost operating efficiency in the interval between now and the implementation of NextGen technologies. Eventually, the tablets could play a key complementary role supporting the increasing capable Class 3 installed EFBs on the aircraft to run the new flight critical technologies.

“The iPad has been a game changer for EFBs in the air transport and business aviation markets,” said Rick Ellerbrock, director, chief strategist at Jeppesen. “The vast majority of our air transport and business aviation customers are either deployed with mobile technology, are in formal evaluation programs or are seriously considering it for the future,” he said. “A very high percentage of EFB authorizations we’ve seen in the last two years have been on (the) iPad.”

As its popularity has grown, the “iPad and other tablets have helped to accelerate airline interest in EFBs and may help to lower the cost of entry to implement a basic, limited functionality, Class I EFB system,” said Jim Schmitz, director of business development for Goodrich’s cockpit data management products. In fact, Goodrich and other major EFB vendors including Esterline CMC and Astronautics Corporation of America are reporting solid interest in their Class 2 and Class 3 EFBs. Unlike the handheld portables, these devices are designed to be attached or built-in to the aircraft. The Class 3 systems are actually wired into the aircraft systems themselves and are expected to handle at least some of the NextGen applications, such as ADS-B.

Goodrich’s Class 3 SmartDisplay EFB with Honeywell’s SmartTraffic technology uses a dual processor architecture to run both Windows and Type C software applications.

“We are seeing an increase in understanding … (among) operators of the value of an installed EFB system,” which unlike the portable devices includes advanced capabilities such as video surveillance as well as the “more ‘classical’ paperless applications such as charts and documents,” said Jean-Marie Bégis, director of EFB products at Ottawa-based Esterline CMC Electronics. “We have seen many airlines revisiting their EFB plans in the last quarter of 2011 as more education has occurred on the respective merits of possible EFB implementations.”

The big push for the sales of the more capable Class 3 EFBs is expected to come with the implementation of NextGen systems, such as ADS-B, but that is still some time off. In the meantime, the airlines facing high fuel costs are looking at EFBs, such as tablets, “to provide immediate cost savings to their operation in the short-term … (by) possibly providing weight reductions through eliminating paper in the cockpit,” said D. Eyton Zelazo, business development manager at Astronautics Corporation of America in Milwaukee.

Several U.S. carriers are actively exploring or testing the iPad, including Alaska Airlines, United Airlines and UPS; however, only American Airlines has been granted FAA approval to use the technology in all phases of flight, said Capt. Hank Putek, Jr., the EFB team leader for the Allied Pilots Association Safety Committee.

While American Airlines is “the only Part 121 operator” to gain this authorization, “there are a number of Part 135 operators that are using iPads during all phases of flight,” said Les Dorr, FAA spokesman. “We have issued over 1,000 A061 OpSpecs” clearing the way for these carriers to use them throughout flight.

American Airlines is “currently implementing the iPad across all of its fleets … as a Class 1 device,” which means, according to FAA rules, it must “be secured and viewable if used during all phases of flight,” he said.

Esterline CMC Electronic’s 8.4-inch PilotView Electronic Flight Bag

Aside from its “attractive price point” and “widespread availability,” the product’s ecosystem including applications and “the tools that come with it … has generated a positive business case for many... operators,” Ellerbrock said.

“An increasing number of aviation-related applications are being developed for these platforms,” said Larisa Parks, vice president of marketing and product management at Honeywell. “In addition to electronic manuals … the biggest trend has been the widespread adoption of tablet computers for charts and maps.”

In fact, the roster of aviation-related apps available for the iPad numbers now in the hundreds and includes a variety of apps from companies including GlobalNavSource, Navtech, Garmin, WingX, ARINC and ForeFlight. Jeppesen has designed its Jeppesen Mobile TC, which includes access to terminal charts worldwide for Jeppesen electronic chart subscribers, and Jeppesen Mobile FliteDeck specifically for the iPad. The company is “launching a version of the iPad app called Mobile FliteDeck Pro, targeting the needs air carriers, large business operators and military customers,” Ellerbrock said.

“By arming the crew with a tablet, an airline can reduce the amount of paper required for operations, taking strain off the individuals while reducing printing and distribution costs,” said Parks. That paper reduction can be a considerable since the paper charts and maps in those old flight bags weighed 40 pounds or more compared to about a 1.5-pound iPad.

“Operators will also be able to load applications that are relevant before, during and after flight rather than only focusing on applications for the operation,” said Parks, noting that Honeywell is currently marshaling “its expertise in certification and human factors to determine what will make tablets as productive for pilots as possible.”

For now, “the most obvious benefit for the pilot is … increased situational awareness” both on the ground and when “making instrument approaches in bad weather,” said Putek. Using the technology, pilots can “pan and zoom and scroll the charts around to whatever (their) position is on the airport,” he said. It is “significantly easier” to use than paper. “You can preset all the charts that you need for your flight (and not) … have to thumb through 75 pages of Los Angeles approach charts, for example.”

Flightman, formerly Aircraft Maintenance Technologies, formatted its EFB software for the iPad, allowing airlines to use the capabilities without installing EFB hardware.

The enthusiasm for the iPad is generating a push among some in the industry to increase the iPad’s role on the flight deck. For example, Swedish cargo carrier Amapola has received approval from the Swedish aviation regulators to use the iPad as a Class 2 EFB on its Fokker 50 turboprops. Waterloo, Ontario-based Navtech is working with Fokker Services “to provide commercial aviation’s first affordable hardware and mounting solution for EFB technology designed for the Apple iPad,” according to the company.

“A growing number of avionics suppliers and airplane OEMs are developing programs that enable mobile devices like iPads to be brought onboard and connected with the systems on the airplane,” said Ellerbrock.

“This connectivity will evolve to be truly bi-directional, so that important information gathered and briefed by pilots during pre-flight, as well as updates for onboard databases, can be carried onto the airplane by the flight crew and securely transferred to the avionics systems, usable on displays in the pilot’s primary field of view.”

However, there is push back in the industry to the expanded use of these commercial off-the-shelf products. “Some vendors are trying to make it bigger and better than it is,” said Putek.

The iPad screen shot, above, shows some of the functionalities available
from ARINC’s AEROMilBag application.

“It doesn’t make sense to expand the usage” of this consumer portable device, which could be subject to the uncertainties of the commercial marketplace. “If Apple decides to make it round tomorrow instead of rectangular it is no longer any good for anybody … (and) what if the batteries are all recalled next week?” he asked. In light of these possibilities, Putek said companies should limit their “risk exposure” to those features they “cannot control which (include) the form factor (and) quality control of this device” or other similar commercial table devices.

“We see the iPad as a tool for replacing paper products,” said Dorr. “In the future, these devices could interact with aircraft systems, (and) once you have a commercial-off-the-shelf device interacting with an installed aircraft system, you have the potential for issues.”

Putek said he sees the iPad serving mainly as an interim solution that might eventually work in tandem with the Class 3 EFBs when the NextGen technologies are deployed. With the NextGen features not currently enabled for airlines to use, an airline investing in a Class 3 device “wouldn’t be able to recover a return on investment fully … so the iPad fills that gap because just with the basics it could do 75 percent to 85 percent of the Class 3 device as far as presenting data to the pilots.”

As we get closer to NextGen, the iPad will provide more reference. “It would be just like having a kit bag full of paper,” Putek said. “You still need those reference materials,” and it would be more convenient to read those materials on an iPad than a Class 3 device.

Outside of the commercial aviation world, the military is also looking at the adoption of tablet technology for cockpit functionality. In June, ARINC released what it called the first fully customizable EFB iPad application for the U.S. military.

“ARINC had been seeking the right platform for an EFB since testing our commercial eFlightDeck system in 2003,” said Rob Simm, ARINC program manager. “When the iPad was introduced in 2010, we realized we had the platform we needed.”

In 2010, ARINC partnered with GlobalNavSource, an industry leader in aeronautical software to help develop the application.

Simm and his team are in the process of preparing for operational trials, certification and accreditation with support from various military branches of the Department of Defense and other government agencies. Based on required testing directed by each department, Simm anticipates that operational deployments for the AEROMilBag will begin in 2013.

Countdown to NextGen

Meanwhile, the countdown to NextGen is building its own momentum in the market, according to industry officials. “More airlines are asking about their options for upgrading EFB systems to be ADS-B In capable,” said Schmitz.

In addition, “several new FAA ADS-B In operational evaluation (OpEval) programs are being planned for the near future, and airlines are showing increased interest in participating in these programs.” The company is taking part in some of these ongoing operations, for example it supplied Class 3 EFBs to 12 United Airlines 747-400s used on South Pacific routes as part of a year-long multiphase initiative that began in late 2011 sponsored by FAA and aimed at testing in-trail procedures using Honeywell’s Smart Traffic application.

Astronautics will be supplying EFBs to ADS-B-equipped Delta Air lines 767s for Eurocontrol funded In Trail Procedure trials using ACSS SafeRoute software over the North Atlantic. The goal of the trials is to demonstrate fuel savings that can be gained by optimizing ascent and descent using ADS-B. The trial is meant to get aviation authorities to say the procedures can be done and show industry there are savings to be gained from the technology, said Bill Ruhl, regional marketing manager at Astronautics. A long-term goal may be to reduce separation between aircraft, but for now “one of the key fuel saving issues is optimized climb,” he said. “If you’re stuck at a lower altitude you are burning fuel (but) once you are up there at that optimized altitude that is not an issue, and coming down” the goal is “to optimize your descent and not have to stair-step down which will save you even more fuel.”

Meanwhile, the EFB vendors are continuing to refine or update their systems. For example, CMC is adding to its available EFB system configuration options, “a new processor baseline is now available (Corei7 based) along with our new CMA-1108 8.4-inch display-processor product, which features our latest, standard 8.4-inch LED display enhancements,” said Bégis.

“Regarding the NEXIS EFB, we have a customer lined up to do an STC for the Airbus A320 aircraft,” said Zelazo. In addition, the EFB now has the “ability to run certified and uncertified applications on a single processor,” which allows the company to offer additional capabilities not seen with Class 1 or Class 2 EFBs including NextGen capable applications, such as our Cockpit Display of Traffic Information that “are operational and fielded for numerous NextGen and Eurocontrol activities,” Zelazo said. The company is also offering a software development kit and “we are encouraging people to develop applications for the system,” he said. “All the tools are there to make it quite easy to develop applications for widgets and buttons.”

“Goodrich has certified new EFB system wiring configurations on major aircraft platforms (A320, A330, 737NG, 747-400) that maximize EFB connectivity to various aircraft avionics systems,” said Schmitz. The company also is continuing “development and certification activities on our new G700 SmartDisplay EFB system, which employs the dual-partition computer architecture. The system is planned for STC certification in early 2013 with two major airline customers.”

Next month: Sensor Payloads

Avionics Magazine’s Product Focus is a monthly feature that examines some of the latest trends in different market segments of the avionics industry. It does not represent a comprehensive survey of all companies and products in these markets. Avionics Product Focus Editor Ed McKenna can be contacted at


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