Plane Sense - The Paperless Cockpit
Category: Plane Sense
Author: Steve Watkins
The Paperless Cockpit
(From a maintenance point of view)
Just a few years ago, anyone could walk through a General Aviation airport FBO lobby and see corporate pilots passing the time as they waited for the return of their passengers with a stack of little brown binders and large piles of papers in front of them. One pile was made up of the sheets that had been ripped out of the binders and the other pile was a pristine, neat, new stack, ready to repopulate the little brown binder. Anyone from the industry knows that these were Jeppesen navigation charts, and the updating process for the pilots was time consuming and never-ending.
Now, with new digital systems, it can all be done by hitting the download button. I just wonder what pilots are doing now to fill their day while sitting in a remote FBO, without any Jeppesen charts to update. There are several Advisory Circulars issued by the FAA to help explain and provide guidance on the Paperless Cockpit, which is now commonly known as the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB).
There are three Advisory Circulars (ACs) that I referenced for this article; the AC 20-173, titled Installation of Electronic Flight Bag Components; the AC 91-78, titled Use of Class 2 or Class 3 Electronic Flight Bag (EFB); and the AC 120-76a for Part 91, Guidelines for the Certification, Airworthiness, and Operation Approval of Electronic Flight Bag Computing Devices. I recommend that anyone operating an aircraft with an EFB or planning an installation, should do a full review and understand these ACs and all of the regulatory documentation that is referenced within each.
Due to the various types of EFBs and the different types of operations that use them, I will address the important points contained in AC 20-173 that apply to the Aviation Technicians.
PLANNING FOR A NEW INSTALLATION
As a technician planning for a new installation, it is good to start with determining what Class (Hardware) and Type (Software) of EFB the operator is buying. Each Class varies, depending on what part of the Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) rules the aircraft operates under; Part 91, Part 91 Subpart F, or Part 121, 125, 129 or 135.
Whether it is a new install or an existing EFB that needs to be maintained, someone from the crew and the maintenance provider should review the ACs and FARs to assure that the requirements are being met for both Operations (Pilots) and Airworthiness (Mechanics).
Doing research up front is always a good idea because the “I didn’t know” excuse is not a very good defense if something happens associated with the EFB that causes an incident or accident.
Mounting of an EFB Class 1 or Class 2 requires an experienced mechanic and an appropriate repair station. The days of simply sticking the EFB to the yoke of the aircraft with Velcro are long gone. (The Velcro mounting option was never a good idea for many reasons, but especially due to Velcro losing its strength with age. It is almost impossible to determine how many times you could attach and remove it before the EFB unit would fall off into the pilot’s lap during a final approach.)
Mounting any new sophisticated EFB today requires a specific installation plan and design. The EFB cannot obstruct visual or physical access to the aircraft controls and displays, or obstruct flight crew movement or external vision. In today’s modern aircraft this can be a challenge. The mounting also needs to be accessible to the flight crew without impeding the performance of any task. The unit must be easy to lock into position while minimizing the wear and tear of the mechanism.
It’s also important to install a well-designed mount that meets the requirements and all of the numerous Parts of the FARs that deal with crashworthiness and continued airworthiness.
BASIC ITEMS COMPLIANCE
There are basic items that must be complied with whenever the aircraft power and data sources are involved. The required power source cannot affect safe operation when the EFB has a failure and it must meet the electrical requirements of the system and be fault protected.
This power source must also be labelled correctly so that, when an EFB is being used, the person plugging in the EFB can make sure it is properly connected. I would not want to be the one that hooks up an EFB that is supposed to have a 12V input to a 120 volt plug and then have to explain to the boss why his brand new EFB is smoking and somewhat warm to the touch.
Further, don’t forget that in an aircraft, the bundle of tangled wires like the ones behind your work desk, are not allowed, so be sure all cabling is properly secured and out of the way.
Data connectivity and processors also depend on the Class and Type of EFB being used or installed. If it is a read-only access system, the interface must ensure one-way communication of data. The design of the interface connection between the EFB and the aircraft systems must ensure that all vulnerability to computer viruses, worms, unauthorized access and malicious access are prevented.
Like the interface, the processor must also be partitioned to guarantee that the data flow and resources (memory, hard drive, avionics data, etc.) meet requirements. Display installation must take into account factors like accessibility, glare and reflection. The screen-size should be adequate and able to display a standard instrument approach procedure chart in a format similar to a published paper chart.
No matter what type or class of EFB is installed, a continuous inspection program that details the maintenance, updating and testing of the system is required.
CONTACT THE REGULATORY AGENCY
EFB operation and airworthiness regulations and procedures are still being designed, tested and regulated. To avoid spending too much time and money on a system that may not meet the local regulatory agency’s concept of the requirement, it is a good idea to contact them and have them approve it first.
Plan to provide the agency representative with documentation and be ready to explain your paperless cockpit plans. Include the Class and Type, the installation and the on-going maintenance and training programs. I also recommend having a six-month plan that includes both the paperless EFB and a backup system to assure that everything can be maintained and updated, even if there is an EFB failure.
As a final thought, it does appear that mechanics today are providing exceptional installation planning and on-going maintenance for these new EFBs, allowing pilots more free time - perhaps to go play a round of golf - instead of tearing and inserting paper charts into that little brown binder while sitting in the FBO. You’re welcome!
Steve Watkins is Technical Services Manager, Western Region for Jet Support Services, Inc. (JSSI). Steve has been an A&P mechanic, IA and Private Pilot for over 35 years and was a Designated Mechanics Examiner in Wichita, KS and Long Beach, CA. He has also spent time as Director of Maintenance and Chief Inspector for various FAR 135 and FAR 145 operations, owned his own maintenance shop as well as instructed at an A&P technical school and is an active member of the AMT Society.
Contact Steve at: SWatkins@jetsupport.com