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Paperless Cockpits in Business Aviation

Having been a pilot in the Business Aviation industry for 38 years, I have witnessed a wide array of changes – from having to carry a flight bag weighing more than 20 lbs on-board, to the present day where all I need is a tablet. The trend towards paperless cockpits is one that is gaining traction with an ever-quickening pace.

AvBuyer   |   13th June 2014
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By Pat Dunn

Optimizing International Travel for the Business Jet

Having been a pilot in the Business Aviation industry for 38 years, I have witnessed a wide array of changes – from having to carry a flight bag weighing more than 20 lbs on-board, to the present day where all I need is a tablet. The trend towards paperless cockpits is one that is gaining traction with an ever-quickening pace.

Initially it can be hard for many pilots to feel comfortable relying on a single electronic device for all the critical information needed in the cockpit of a business aircraft. The move towards a paperless cockpit, however, has shown many benefits - as well as challenges - to the norms and expectations. We have had to amend our thought process and look beyond what we have known for many years and generations as aviators. We have had to ‘make friends’ with tools that many of us could not have imagined when we started in this business.

Today those tools cannot be left behind in the FBO – and personally, I feel naked without them.

The process of a paperless cockpit started by creating documents of all types in a “soft copy” format. What a foreign term! These documents allowed us to archive according to subject matter that is easily searchable at any given moment. This progressed to aviation charting documents for instrument approaches, and eventually a means to create en-route airway charts to view easily from a small computer (and now a tablet).

The ability to replace reams of operating manuals, safety checklists, logbooks, weather information, diagrams and charts with a tablet allows pilots increased convenience, and I now have more cabinet space to store my snacks for flight! Having all this crucial information at my fingertips when they are most needed has not only increased efficiency but also improves the safety element of the flight.

The ability to take a small tablet home, or to a hotel for review of the next day’s flight information has also allowed me a means to be more effectively prepared for my next flight.

Business aircraft operation pilots needed the next process that de-clutters flight decks of reams of paper, flight plans and weather charts on domestic and international flights; the process of creating these documents in PDF formats was not the challenge, but making them user-friendly was. The documents had to be marked effectively to meet the requirements of a complete ‘Journey Log’ for department and regulatory records.

Tailoring A Paperless Solution

That said, with the introduction of the iPad in 2010, there have been several digital flight planning applications introduced in the market for pilots to choose from. It is important for any flight department to discover and tailor the best solution for their specific flying needs from the apps that are available – one solution does not necessarily fit all, and a mix-and-match approach is sometimes necessary.

It’s only through trial and error that I’ve found one that provides the most effective tools for my operations in both domestic and international trip planning and operations. My iPad is littered with applications that I have tried and lost interest in. I have to delete many of them to give myself room for more data storage.

ARINC Direct iPad application for pilots has worked particularly well for me, however. Introduced in 2011, the solution is designed to simplify managing the flight plan and all pertinent data for a flight. This app is easy to use in the cockpit, while it effectively records all forms of data that are required to track flight information. It also displays all processed Flight Plans, Weather Briefings, Filing Data and Security Briefings, allowing pilots in our operation to search and review any information they may require very conveniently.

This information can be downloaded prior to stepping into the aircraft and utilized in an off-line mode. We’ve also tried using the app with Wi-Fi in the aircraft and have found it can retrieve current weather faster than some FMS Weather retrieval tools. At the end of the flight, the recorded data may be emailed to the user and stored with other required documents for historical records required by regulators and management of the flight departments.

Documents can be assigned to a specific leg, aircraft or user and can also be copied from one location to another. These features are automatically created so that pilots can easily drop documents where they belong, putting all of the information needed for a flight in one convenient easily-accessed location. Separate folders for international or domestic operations can be defined too.

Asia Corporate Jets Singapore (ACJS) happened to find the ARINC Direct app appropriate for our operations as it meets our needs in all phases of our operations when it comes to Flight Planning and trip preparations, regardless of whether they are domestic, US, or Worldwide operations. We’ve been using this tool, alongside FD Manager’s e-Flight/Tech Log and record keeping tool to tie all of our flight department processes together and transition onto a paperless cockpit solution to fit our needs.

FD Manager fulfilled our need for a good paperless flight record-keeping processing tool, creating an effective e-Flight and Tech Log that meets all OTAR (Overseas Territories Aviation Requirements) including electronic signing by all crew members and electronic sign-offs for maintenance rectifications on the aircraft. This has been approved for ACJS by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands, and also recognised by the Bermuda Aviation Authority as meeting OTAR requirements.

An internal capability for reporting aircraft tracking processes has been developed by FD Manager, too, that advises of a late arrival to the flight destination by emailing the appropriate parties when the aircraft is flying more than 30 minutes behind schedule - a process available to aircraft that are equipped with Data-Link Off/On reporting systems.

Eradication Common Errors…

It was also important to us that the tool we selected assists in removing many of the errors in record-keeping pilots make every day; more so when the pilots have international flights to plan. I’ve found a minimum of six standard errors that pilots and department members make when processing our basic records from a flight…

- First the electronic logs help with pilot legibility in writing. We are worst at this than doctors writing prescriptions!

- We have a difficult time of calculating our flight and block time from the times out, off, on and in.

- We have a challenge adding a column of numbers and getting a correct value, and have a difficult time transferring the numbers from the top of the page to the bottom where we may add them incorrectly to previous flight times for our aircraft. When trying to transfer that information to tomorrow’s logs, we tend to become dyslexic.

- When someone else in the department tries to enter the data into the company record-keeping system, more errors may occur.

- Of course, when we advise our maintenance tracking systems of our information, we get that wrong too.

- We create our own nightmare of recordkeeping.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies for accurate information. I know because I am one of the culprits. Hence, the FD Manager tool helps optimise accuracy and, as a result, efficiency.

Reducing Pilot Work-Load

As with the ARINC Direct app, FD Manager can be operated offline, and online access is only required to submit completed documents or to request the next Flight Log with all required data that has been forwarded from the previous submission – including Carried Forward Airframe and Engine Times, Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) times, Next Maintenance Due Items, and VOR Check requirements. All completed documents are then emailed to appropriate parties in the organization as well as third party maintenance programs.

FD Manager tracks all of our associated iPads for currency status and the last date of updating any of the associated tools within the App. Integrating mobile solutions such as these have helped reduce my workload as a pilot and increased operational efficiency, all while lowering costs in a competitive business environment.

The great thing about digital tools, such as the ones mentioned within this article, is that they are updated automatically and regularly. This means pilots are always getting the latest flight tools available, which is a huge convenience to us. With such digital tools, the Business Aviation industry has completed its circle to provide a truly paperless cockpit. Where do we go from here?


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