Apple’s iPad is a revolutionary device to the aviation industry. So much so that, 2012 marked the year of the “iPad Cockpit Invasion.” Many major airlines, including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, have already deployed iPads to their pilots, with nearly all those who haven’t yet laying plans to do so soon. Pilots now routinely look to these affordable commerical-off-the-shelf (COTS) devices for information that used to reside exclusively in paper format. Every day, more and more iOS apps are created to help streamline processes that once were on paper.
Imagine what could be done if it were possible to stream real-time flight data into interactive iOS Apps. How dramatically could this revolutionize the industry? This isn’t a dream for the far-flung future; it is possible now.
As our team at Avionics & Systems Integration Group (ASIG) has been building the infrastructure to stream flight data to the iPad, we have been amazed at the ever-expanding potential of connecting iOS devices with the airframe. Connecting iPads to the airframe, and accessing real-time data, opens up a new level of innovation potential for airlines and app developers.
Ã¢Å¾Â¤ Affordable FOQA/FDM Programs: Until now, the costs of implementing Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA)/flight data monitoring (FDM) programs have been prohibitive, largely due to the costs of aircraft equipage and technical infrastructure establishment to use the data collected from aircraft systems and sensors. With iPads connected directly to the airframe, data can be gathered during flight, and then transmitted over traditional IP infrastructure. Because this can be done at a lower cost than traditional quick access recorder (QAR) systems, while also minimizing file transfer sizes, prohibitive adoption expense is no longer the roadblock to better efficiency and progress.
Besides diminishing the overall cost of adoption, with a FOQA/FDM program in place, airlines could also employ a series of other efficiency-gaining programs, including more effective training programs based on a pilot’s actual flight data, which would build a means of establishing crew-derived remedial action through FOQA/FDM data monitoring.
The availability of FOQA/FDM data in this way provides enhanced crew resource management (CRM) training by allowing the visual reconstitution of flights, providing flight crews with a better visual understanding of what led to hazardous flight situations. This would also translate into real business benefits increased fuel efficiency, decreased environmental infringements, and fewer flight operations violations and fines for noise level restrictions, to name just a few.
Ã¢Å¾Â¤ Lower Operating Costs: Airlines are looking for practical ways to reduce operating costs, like every smart business operating today. Streaming real-time data to the iPad will create many new ways of doing that. Fuel burn reduction is a great example. Through both better training as a result of FOQA/FDM analysis, and airframe weight reduction, from replacing heavy publications and flight data terminals with lightweight COTS devices and lighter weight installation provisions, the bottom line on fuel gets healthier.
Recorded data captured by the iPad also empowers operators to leverage operational and performance data to improve maintenance efforts and efficacy. Enhanced engine trend monitoring helps reduce engine maintenance costs. Airframe lifecycles are extended through improved operational training based on FOQA/FDM. Spare part inventory can be reduced based on analysis of vibration and hard landing data. The multitude of small efficiency improvements adds up quickly, and translates into better and better financial figures to report for airlines.
Ã¢Å¾Â¤ Reduce Compliance Risk and Fees: Aircraft operators face growing regulatory compliance risks. To mitigate many of these, a connected iPad, and its apps, in the hands of pilots would help identify things like potential risk and current safety margins, such as rejected takeoffs, hard landings and unstable approaches. This data can also be leveraged to help avoid divergence of company published/CAA accepted standard operating procedures.
These new, interconnected apps would also include features that enhance compliance with ICAO Annex 6 mandates for FDM and SMS implementation. They could extend to enhance situational awareness, and reduce pilots’ workloads while improving crew resource management.
Aside from the countless areas of operational improvement made possible by technology like this, both Apple’s and ASIG’s development frameworks and software development kits (SDK) make iOS app development quick and easy for operators to spec. That means rapid development cycles of highly customized solutions, which bring a high degree of vertical and horizontal alignment to enterprise clients with divergent management, business or organizational objectives.
Ã¢Å¾Â¤ Enhance Dispatch Awareness Readiness: With electronic distribution of data to iPad apps, pilots arrive flight ready, with mission plans and updated company, regulatory and other required reference materials. Apps are continually being developed which provide a more accessible means for pilots to conduct pre-flight briefings and post-flight analysis. This allows operational managers to achieve higher profits, lower operating costs and greater flexibility.
Ã¢Å¾Â¤ Increase Crew Situational Awareness: Access to real-time data inside iOS apps provides pilots with embedded NOTAM detail within charting applications. Today’s apps also provide electronic, scalable and rapid reference for short, medium and long-range flight transitions, with airspace restrictions.
This allows pilots and Mission Operations Control Center personnel to highlight changes from the baseline, and determine when non-standard, unusual or basically unsafe circumstances occur in flight operations, such as increases in above rates, new events and new locations.
Connected apps help establish a pilots expectation relative to the frequency of operational occurrences, along with data necessary to make informed estimates of the level of risk present. That way, the pilots can determine if aircraft risk level is acceptable, enabling pilots to be better, more informed decision makers. Let’s say a new ATC published approach has introduced high rates of descent that are approaching the threshold for triggering ground proximity warning system (GPWS)/terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) warnings. With the right connected apps, pilots would be able to anticipate, and take necessary action, far earlier in the flight operations process.
Due to continuing training relative to trend analysis, pilots would better understand the effect of the newly published descent on the aircraft’s performance.
Luke Ribich is the managing director of the flyTab team. He is also managing partner of Avionics & Systems Integration Group (ASIG), of Little Rock, Ark. ASIG’s flyTab hardware and software system, which has been certified by FAA and Apple, integrates multiple avionics data buses with real-time data viewing and recording on the iPad. (flyTab is a registered brand of ASIG, developed in partnership with Shadin Avionics and AppOrchard.) For more information, visit www.flytab.aero or www.asigllc.com.