Since the first EFB was patented, the paperless cockpit concept has evolved quickly. So have the regulations governing their use in the cockpit...Back to Articles
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