What happens after the validation?
Paperless cockpit systems require intense planning in order to obtain the required approvals to use the shiny new Electronic Flight Bags (EFB) and no longer carry around that 200 pound briefcase full of paper charts. Once all of the requirements are met from advisory AC 120-76B or any later versions, it seems like you should be ready to go.
It may be that the owner, crew and maintenance department has the local regulatory representative leaving with a smile, and the validation approval signed and in hand, but it’s too bad these paperless cockpits have a long list of requirements that must be met in order to continue using the system.
With that sobering thought in mind, what happens after the validation process for these EFB systems, and what are the requirements that will plague you for years to come?
In order to obtain all the approvals to use the EFB, you had to qualify numerous items, so naturally these qualifications must be maintained. One of the requirements would be inspections and review of procedures, performed at specific intervals, to make sure that the system is functioning properly.
If you do have a failure and cannot replace it with the same type or model of EFB, the new unit must meet the original requirements for the battery, decompression testing, non-interference requirements with other aircraft equipment, and the software and data requirements. And don’t forget that two EFBs are required for back-up purposes. So going down to Best Buy and getting the latest and greatest new tablet probably won’t work.
This process will require a substantial amount of research, lengthy approvals, additional training, and much of the aggravation that you had with the initial approval.
Aircraft & EFB
The mounting, electrical interface and data interface will need to be checked when you are replacing the EFB. And, if you are also replacing or installing a new avionics component in the aircraft, you need to make sure it is compatible with the EFB.
The new avionics being installed in the cockpit cannot interfere with the EFB mount. In addition you will need to consider compatibility with the emissions, information, data exchanges, and of course make sure units are offered that match in color with the other components.
If the EFB interferes with the new avionics (or vice versa) you will have to go back and redesign everything, and go through the process of reapproving the mount, inspection and training programs as though you were starting over.
Software & Data
Software is often updated to improve performance and reliability. These updates must be installed, and a record maintained to show the current status of the EFB. An operator needs to be sure that they have a method of notification to the crew that software or data updates are completed as required, and that the correct information is being downloaded onto all EFBs that are to be used in the aircraft.
If, as an operator, you have multiple aircraft with different types of paperless software and hardware installed there must be some way to ensure that all components and systems between the operated aircraft and the EFB are compatible. Having different paperless programs on multiple EFB systems that are operated by several different crews could not only be an airworthiness issue, but also be a danger to the actual operation of the aircraft.
It’s obvious that using an EFB to run Weight and Balance for a Gulfstream G550 with data for a Cessna 172 might cause a problem. It’s not that I see this happening, but I do envisage the possibility of crews using incorrect information for two separate Gulfstream G550 aircraft with different loading configurations. My suggestion is to have the EFB dedicated to a specific aircraft, and if the crew has a game of Angry Birds they want to play in flight, they must use a separate device.
The training for paperless cockpit usage should be performed with each crew member and mechanic during the initial introduction and also on a recurring basis. Any changes to the system, its operation, or data should be a training requirement. Changes in either the Paperless Cockpit system or any aircraft system should require crew and maintenance training.
Minimum Equipment List (MEL) training is also important to ensure that operations and maintenance departments know that they can MEL partial or complete failures of the EFB system - but this must be accomplished in accordance with the requirement of the MEL. Such training should include the requirements for deactivation of the EFB system, required deactivation of aircraft components, and the limitation of flight that may be required.
It is easy to see, that the installation and validation of a Paperless Cockpit system is just the beginning and there are many steps to maintaining these systems for the future.
The take-away from this article is that continuous review and research of all the requirements for your Paperless Cockpit system must be performed. As a fairly new concept, using an EFB is certainly a better option than carrying around that big briefcase of charts. However, there is no doubt these systems will continue to evolve and change in the future to assure that reliability and safety are maintained well after the initial validation approval process has been signed-off.