What are the developments in Electronic Flight Bags that have increased flight deck efficiency and performance today? And how will they continue to evolve to cater for pilot needs in the future? Mario Pierobon polls the industry…
Business jet pilots have always looked for ways to improve flight deck efficiency and performance. One such way has been through the widespread adoption of electronic flight bag (EFB) solutions.
While in the early days EFB solutions mainly facilitated the transition to paperless flight decks, the technology has evolved significantly to further increase the improvements in flight deck efficiency and performance.
Development of EFB Solutions
In the early days of EFB applications, one could find ‘apps’ that ran on powerful hand-held computers that then migrated to early generation personal electronic devices (PED).
“This facilitated much of the flight crew’s pre-flight planning with functions including the latest weather forecasts and information, as well as fuel planning and weight and balance calculations,” Scott Sweet, market development director, Business Aviation, Inmarsat told AvBuyer.
“These apps eventually evolved into dedicated EFB devices, and further developments have now made it possible for them to run on commercial ‘off the shelf’ tablets and smartphones.
“EFB solutions have evolved from offering basic calculations to much more complex and interactive efficiency-enhancing solutions that utilize inputs from on-board GPS sources, massive increases in digital memory capacity and the integration of high-speed broadband connectivity.”
Initially EFBs were intended to replace paper en-route and terminal navigation charts. Updates of paper sets of charts required a high workload.
“Progressively, performance software was introduced,” recalls Cristophe Jumelle, EFB and performance operations manager, Dassault Aviation Falcon Customer Service.
“Performance applications provide accurate results and reduce pilot workload. The operational documentation has also become more and more electronically based. The last step for operators to become paperless was the replacement of the flight folder (mission data such as weather, notices to airmen (NOTAMs) and the operational flight plan) by electronic tools (weather applications, electronic flight folder).
“As of today, operators can fly an aircraft while only keeping the paper quick reference handbook (QRH), particularly for abnormal procedures. In the future an electronic QRH may even fully remove paper in the flight deck,” Jumelle reflects.
Early EFB solutions ultimately consisted simply of MS Windows-based PDF readers. “The form factors at that time were very limited in terms of choice, and many required a stylus,” explains Frank McGee, senior customer support specialist, Gulfstream Aerospace. “For our airplanes, paper can still be found in the form of the aircraft flight manual, as FAA regulations require it to be aboard the aircraft and accessible by the flight crew.
“Our PlaneBook app for iPad, which made its debut in 2011, is designed and marketed as an electronic document management app for the flight deck. It can, however, serve as an EFB, provided it is approved by the owner’s aviation regulatory authority for this purpose,” McGee continues.
“The PlaneBook app contains all the reference documents a flight crew could ever need, including the aircraft flight manual, operating manual, quick reference handbook, pilot’s checklist, and master minimum equipment list, just to name a few. A logical arrangement, extensive use of hyperlinks and a robust search functionality make it simple to navigate and locate data. There are nearly 8,000 subscribers to the PlaneBook app.”
A companion to PlaneBook is the Gulfstream Performance iPad app, available for G650ER, G650, G550, G500, G450 and G280 flight crews.
“The app features an intuitive interface for accomplishing comprehensive takeoff and landing performance calculations, with results provided in easy-to-interpret graphics,” McGee continues.
“Performance calculations are based on the aircraft’s certified Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) performance data, and when connected to a mobile network or Wi-Fi, the Gulfstream Performance app uses real-time meteorological reports in its performance calculations.”
Additionally, the app incorporates navigation database obstacle data to further assist pilots in the pre-mission planning process.
Improvements in EFB Hardware
In the beginning EFBs were simple laptops. The need was mainly moving away from reams of paper in the flight deck to something more manageable.
“We just used laptops in the beginning. You had to fold them out and the keyboard would be in the way,” says Uwe Nitsche, chief executive officer, RocketRoute. “Then touchscreens started to evolve and we started moving to the earliest generation of tablets.
“The first path of development was making the hardware more portable. The first functionality was search. Quickly getting to a document was the main aspect of interest in the early stages. And then of course things started moving forward.”
The EFB hardware technology has evolved in parallel with computer technology standards: Touchscreen, sensitivity, quality of display, time of response. “The advent of digital technology, driven by consumer electronics, has allowed a comparable evolution in the EFB industry,” Sweet notes.
“The biggest advances include the exponential growth in the size of digital memory, electronic component miniaturization, ever faster microprocessor speeds, embedded GPS, and of course, giant leaps in connectivity from cellular to broadband.”
“The revolution in the EFB industry came with the introduction of the iPad in 2010,” McGee specifies. “Improvements to data processing speed, graphics refreshment rates, storage capacity and location services have cemented the iPad as the leading form factor in the EFB industry.”
Functionalities of EFB Applications
Very much like the hardware, EFB software – the ‘apps’ – has also developed significantly and enabled ever more functionality in support of the safety and efficiency of business aircraft operations.
“Some of the most important functionalities have to include charts and maps with integrated positioning capabilities both on the ground (taxi/take-off) and in the air, as well as the ability to utilize broadband connectivity to see real-time weather updates”, says Sweet.
Jumelle, meanwhile, points out how the weather conditions may drastically change between flight preparation and flight execution. “Some weather applications propose weather prediction along the flight path before departure,” he says.
“They also permit in-flight updates (observations and prediction) and enable the crew to anticipate strong weather phenomena, as the on-board weather radar may not have the range for such anticipation.”
Moreover, parameters coming from the aircraft’s avionics can be useful on the EFB.
“EFBs now host more and more applications that can be fed by the avionics instead of being manually entered by the pilot (i.e. aircraft position, fuel on board, time of overflying a waypoint, gross weight etc.),” Jumelle highlights.
“The avionics parameters retrieval on the EFB reduces the pilot workload and thus the risk of errors. Dassault Falcon proposes an EFB hardware solution (CMA-1310) for all our EASy aircraft.
“The CMA-1310 receives avionics parameters and hosts the ‘FalconSphere’ suite of applications, which currently include documentation, performance modules, charts, weather, and will introduce an electronic flight folder in 2020”.
Current EFB applications can have external data automatically ‘fetched’ into the application. And additionally, some EFB applications allow the user to perform calculations inside the application, notes McGee.
Areas of Particular EFB Development
EFB applications witnessing particular development include flight planning and performance calculation. The PPS Flight Planning System is a combination of a client-server-based solution and a cloud-based solution.
“EFB technology constitutes the future of flight information management for flight crews. The PPS Flight Planning System integrates seamlessly with the majority of Class I and Class II EFB solutions on the market today through rapid data export/import flows”, offers Kristoffer Sejer Brødløs, marketing manager, Air Support.
The basic components include the core planning system with its essential route generator, a web-based briefing platform and a sub-system to facilitate the exchange of flight planning data with third party entities, such as other integrated software systems along with ATC services.
“Whereas some flight planning systems are proprietary in approach towards system integration, the PPS Flight Planning System facilitates numerous integrations to third party software systems, mainly through APIs,” says Brødløs.
“System integration is a key feature because the aircraft operator can stick to only replacing the existing flight planning system and still reap the benefits of using other types of best-in-class third party aviation software system.
“Moreover, PPS provides the workflow our customers require to not only get their flight plan created as quickly as possible with very fast reply to changes in the plan, but also remain live in the briefing phase in order to always have the latest data available without having to recalculate everything via a remote server.”
With regard to performance calculation Dassault has released an iPad compatible version of FalconPerf allowing quick and intuitive computation of Falcon take-off and landing performance.
“FalconPerf for iPad will be critical in helping crews and operators optimize their mission and save fuel,” explains Frédéric Leboeuf, vice president, Falcon Operational Support. “Based on input from customer pilots and Dassault’s own flight operations, it’s designed to permit the quick calculation of aircraft payload requirements, including last-minute adjustments, and help ensure accurate performance limits.”
The new app was released in parallel with an iPad compatible version of Dassault’s FalconSphere electronic flight bag suite, which hosts FalconPerf and a large number of other Falcon apps.
FalconSphere on iPad includes many of the leading features of the basic EFB, including the ability to seamlessly prepare, manage and restitute Falcon missions. Falcon Perf for iPad calculates take-off and landing performance in compliance with AFM and Dassault recommendations.
Airport data, including one-engine inoperative (OEI) contingency procedures are extracted from Jeppesen NavData and OpsData charts and are updated every 28 days.
Among the graphically-displayed data items are take-off and landing distances for dry, wet and contaminated runways, a vertical cross-section view of the take-off flight path, a tabulated summary of the maximum weight variation with input, maximum take-off weight (MTOW), take-off safety altitude (TOSA) and maximum landing weight (MLW).
What’s the Future of EFB Technology?
EFB technology itself will continue to head in the direction of becoming smaller and lighter, making use of increased electronic component miniaturization. Screen resolution and size will almost always dictate EFB size, however.
“While smaller and lighter are almost always good in anything electronic, with EFBs flight crews need the fastest processors with 4K resolution touch screens of optimal size,” Sweet explains. “With so many EFB solutions now available for business jets, there is also a focus upon the robust, reliable, broadband connection that’s needed to power such data-hungry apps.
“A strong IP connection is essential if EFB applications are to deliver on promises to reduce fuel burn, make operational savings and improve inflight performance.
“Inmarsat offers high-speed connectivity solutions that act as a platform for apps to deliver real-time insights to the cockpit,” he continues. “Our network is designed to support third-party applications, from weather tracking to health monitoring, delivering the real-time information that business jets require to be safe and more efficient today and in the future.”
McGee highlights that research is taking place to develop software that is ‘aware’ of the airplane in which it resides, knowing host parameters such as aircraft configuration, aircraft health and trend monitoring.
Nitsche believes that the continuous development of EFB technology will be an enabler of the air traffic management system of the future. “The flight routes have historically been pretty much stuck to the flight plans filed the night before or the morning of a given flight day because the big challenge has historically been getting the paperwork to the pilot,” he reflects.
“The route that has been planned and the paperwork associated with it also defines the fuel requirement. Historically it was not desirable to do these things at the last minute because it was really hard to get the briefing to the crew and get things all done. With EFB technology having matured and being available at a reasonable cost it is now possible to look at changing processes from the formerly static briefings.
“So now one can start changing routes at the very last minute and this means we can react to weather or airspace congestion much more quickly – and this really plays in to what is going to happen in the next few years, when more congested airspace is expected.”