Evolved at the Speed of Tech- Legal Options are Proliferated
The story topic elicited a head tilt from the first professional Business Aviation pilot asked to share his Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) insights. “Fifteen years? Really?” It seemed shorter- he noted as he recalled the joy he experienced when he first kicked his paper charts habit in to touch way back in...2010.
It’s hard to imagine- but it's true: It was in 1999 that Angela Masson patented the first true EFB- designed specifically as a replacement for a pilot's entire flight bag. Her Electronic Kit Bag sought to relieve pilots of all the paper and charts required at that time- and perform some other helpful functions. Starting in 2002- the FAA issued the first Advisory Circular- AC 120-76- to provide regulatory guidance and an operational outline for the various levels of EFB and software packages – Class 1- Class 2- Class 3 hardware- and Type A- Type B and Type C level software packages.
In 2004 Avionics Support Group earned an STC to install the first commercial Class 2 EFB in a Miami Air Boeing 737NG. But it wasn’t until January 2010 that the revolution finally started for the majority of today's EFB users.
That was the month that Apple unleashed a storm of activity by announcing the coming launch of a totally new- revolutionary computer: About the size of a sheet of paper- only slightly thicker than a Number 2 pencil- the new iPad spawned a new generation of competitors – but none of them have ever challenged the ubiquitous iPad family- with several more versions released in the time since that first launch.
By the time Apple started shipping the first variants of iPad in April 2010- busy developers were ready with the earliest software and accessories created to make the hardware into a fully functional EFB – some with many of the same attributes as the purpose- made EFBs being shipped both then and today.
Four years and five generations into the iPad-era- Class 1 EFB offerings have regained a degree of diversity with iPads. The ubiquitous Apple tablet is a bona fide legal device for commercial-cockpit use as Class 1 and – in particular operations - Class 2.
As Class 2 and Class 3 EFBs began a slow penetration into aircraft flight decks- a procession of Class 1 designs began to emerge targeting General Aviation pilots of both the casual and Business Aviation persuasion. The iPad single-handedly spawned a secondary market for iPad software and accessories that combine to let pilots- corporations and airlines individually “roll their own” solutions.
Today- 15 years after those first tentative steps- the EFB's allure continues to grow- particularly as an iPad adaptation but also as purpose-made systems. The iPad now serves in both Class 1 and Class 2 roles- while avionics vendors and aircraft makers continue to provide their own tailored solutions for Class 2 and Class 3 EFBs.
Driving the rapid change in appeal are dramatic improvements in the cost equation – adapting versus maintaining a paper-based system – as well as expansion of EFB capabilities. The combined effect can best be described as a ‘full-on revolution’ in cockpit-document management habits. It's the legal status for use in commercial environments that helped the iPad clear a barrier to broader acceptance which- simultaneously- further popularized the EFB concept among sceptical businesses. Staying legal is where the picture becomes more complicated for operators- however
Advisory Circular Tango...
Three years after that first patent by Capt. Masson- in July 2002 the FAA issued its first guidance for EFBs. In a sign of how quickly the EFB outlook changed- the FAA updated AC 120-76 less than a year later- on March 17- 2003. In the amended AC- FAA responded to suggestions and critiques of the original AC and updated its guidance with AC 120-76A.
Things remained relatively stable until 2012 (year three into the iPad revolution- and a decade after installed systems began appearing). So it was then that the FAA found it necessary to update AC 120-76A to -76B on June 1- 2012- addressing new issues and technologies.
There are the Advisory Circulars applicable to different types of operations. And these are for US-registered operators under the regulatory authority of the FAA. Similar (though sometimes slightly different) guidance documents exist for other countries- and for Europe. Following are the important points for most Business Aviation uses under FAA guidance. Note: All of the guidance below applies only until the FAA updates- changes or supersedes the ACs referenced.
Part 91: Free & Clear- Mostly
The following should provide a source of relief for the majority of business operators - even those impacted under FAR 91F (for turbine- multi-engine aircraft weighing more than 12-500 pounds) and sub-Part 91K (fractional operators)…
AC 120-76B does not apply to FAA Part 91 General Aviation piston aircraft operations. Operators should still reference the guidance when using the iPad as a paper chart replacement. Pilots flying FAA Part 91F must adhere to the EFB testing and documentation requirements in this AC- but DO NOT need FAA approval before using an EFB as the sole source of charts and aviation data in the cockpit. Got that? Good! Now- on to some details: specifically who the FAA requires to comply with the guidance and who needs authorization. According to FAA:
• Aircraft operated in VFR under Part 91- except for Parts 91F and 91K- require no EFB authorization or compliance with this AC.
• [Non sub-part K fractional] Part 91 operations do not require any specific authorization for EFB operations provided the EFB does not replace any system or equipment required by the regulations - but these operators must still comply with the Portable Electronic Device (PED*) regulation (referring to FAR 91.21 above).
• An authorized EFB PED may be used in all phases of flight operations [whereas a PED must be stowed below 10-000 ft].
• In order for a PED to be considered an EFB:
- Its functions must conform to the guidance in this AC;
- It must meet at least one of the functions listed in the appendices [Appendix 2 of the AC lists “pre-composed or dynamic interactive electronic aeronautical charts” as an example application- which is the reason most pilots will be using the iPad as an EFB (e.g. ForeFlight Mobile)]; and
- It must meet the additional evaluation criteria detailed in the AC (listed below).
(*PED: an iPad is a PED that can be used as an EFB with the appropriate software).
More specifically- consider these Part 91F requirements for pilots/operators of large turbine aircraft (this must be documented and kept on board the aircraft):
• EFBs used in Part 91 operations in lieu of paper reference material are authorized for the intended functions- provided the EFBs meet the criteria set forth in this AC. The evaluation and suitability for in-flight use of an EFB in lieu of paper reference material is the responsibility of the aircraft operator and the PIC. Any Type A or Type B EFB application- as defined in this AC- may be substituted for the paper equivalent. It requires no formal operational approval as long as the guidelines of this AC are followed.
• When the EFB replaces aeronautical information required by Part 91- then a secondary or back-up source of aeronautical information…must be available to the pilot in the aircraft…[and] may be either traditional paper-based material or displayed electronically by other means.”
• Own-ship position is not authorized for display or used for any application- for navigation or otherwise- on a Class 1 or Class 2 EFB in flight.
• Class 1 or Class 2 EFBs must not display own-ship position while in flight.
• This does not apply to Part 91 operations.
• Operators transitioning to a paperless or reduced-paper cockpit should carry paper back-ups of all the information on the EFB during a validation period. The back-up information should be readily available to the crew. During this period the operator should validate that the EFB is as available and reliable as the paper-based system being replaced.
• At least two portable EFBs are required to remove paper products that contain aeronautical charts- checklists or other data required by the operating rules. • Again- this only applies to Part 91F operations and commercial operators – not to general FAR 91 operators- such as owner-flown- LBA and owner-operated flights.
Three EFB Cclasses
As we’ve outlined above- the FAA designates three levels of EFB hardware and three levels of functionality- which we’ll briefly describe here…
• Class 1 EFBs are portable (think iPad) and not attached in any way to the airplane (kneeboard is still Class 1). These:
- Must be secured or stowed during critical phases of flight;
- If running a Type B application- it must be secured and viewable during critical phases of flight (taxi- take-off- landing and under 10-000 ft- other than cruise).
• Class 2 EFBs are portable and non-certified- but unlike Class 1- are attached or mounted to the airplane.
• Class 3 EFBs are certified.
Three Application Types
Again- the FAA designates three levels of application types- which we’ll summarize here…
• Type A applications are intended for use on the ground or in cruise- with pre-composed information (PDF versions of print documents- for example). Specific uses might include operations manuals- SOPs- OpSpecs- weight and balance manuals- flight logs- SBs- VOR checks or even the FAR/AIM).
• Type B applications must be accessible in the cockpit during flight- and are interactive in nature. Examples include power setting charts- runway calculations- charts- checklists- weather- or a weight and balance spreadsheet. Popular Apps like ForeFlight- WingX and Garmin Pilot are good examples of Type B applications.
• Type C applications are those that are FAA-approved.
Testing- Record-Keeping- Housekeeping...
The FAA requires some testing and compliance documentation to be kept on the aircraft- and some form of charting redundancy- only if eliminating paper charts in favor of an EFB; otherwise- paper charts can constitute a backup and an acceptable alternative to the testing/ compliance requirements.
• The AC provides a process (listed as Method 2) by which you can self-test the device Lithium-ion battery;
• It requires safety and testing standards to be in the cockpit (UL- IEC); and
• Operators should have documented maintenance procedures for their rechargeable lithium-type batteries. These procedures should address battery life- proper storage and handling- and safety.
Decompression Testing (pressurized aircraft):
• This is not required to be completed on your actual EFB or iPad; you just need proof that a representative device has successfully completed this testing; • When using only Type A applications on the EFB- rapid decompression testing is not required.
Stowage and Mounting of EFB:
• When the device is not secured or on a mounting device- consideration needs to be given on where to stow the device to prevent unwanted EFB movement when it’s not in use
Develop Policies for EFB use:
• The FAA is mainly looking for how you’ll use the EFB in all phases of flight- and a documented plan of action in the event of EFB failure.
FAR 91 GUIDANCE (FAR 91.21 PEDS)…
• This applies only to air carriers and IFR flights;
• It covers almost all electronic devices- not just EFBs;
• Pilots must determine that the PED won’t interfere with the navigation or communication systems;
• The determination must be made by the PIC or operator of the aircraft.
Use of PEDs Abroad Aircraft (AC 91-21.1B)
• This Advisory Circular is a complement to FAR 91.21 that reinforces that the PIC can make the determination (meaning the renter-pilot if it’s a non-owned aircraft)- “without the need for sophisticated testing equipment”;
• You can self-certify that your airplane is not adversely affected by the iPad.
Advisory Circular AC 91-78
AC 91-78 concerns the use of Class 1 or Class 2 Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs). This is the advisory circular that states it is legal for FAA Part 91 GA piston aircraft pilots to use the iPad with current data as a paper chart replacement.
AC 91-78 is aimed at Part 91 operators- VFR or IFR- and states that EFBs can be used in all phases of flight in lieu of paper when:
• The EFB is the functional equivalent of the paper material;
• The EFB data is current and valid;
• The EFB App meets the AC 120-76B definition/limitations of a Type A (pre-composed information)- or Type B (interactive) application (see below).
• A backup data source is suggested- but is not required. (This back-up can be another electronic device.)
• Users should undergo an evaluation period to make sure they know how to use the EFB before eliminating paper charts.
Pulp Friction to a Fiscal Boon
Who originally conceived of the idea of an electronic device to present charts and plates in the cockpit may be known to history- but we can look at the Boeing 757 and 767 as the earliest manifestation of the glass cockpit – with rudimentary moving map displays and electronic flight instrument systems – these were the first civil airliners with EFIS. But the moving maps were little more than dots and lines representing navigation points- with routes connecting them - all laid on a monochrome screen.
Today- color screens- high-resolution charts- approach plates and other advantages are not only resident on cockpit screens- they're on the tablets pilots use to replace their paper documents; from the aircraft manuals- to logs- to maintenance – and the original purpose- to replace charts- approach plates and the huge- heavy leather chart bags that served as a cockpit standard for decades.
With EFBs that can let you flight-plan and wirelessly transfer that plan to an aircraft FMS system- the EFB is going farther and faster than any other aviation technology of the past 30 years. Who knows where they will go next...?
For Further Reading:
AC 120-76A (Cancelled) - Guidelines for the Certification- Airworthiness- and Operational Approval of Electronic Flight Bag Computing Devices