Monday, May 16, 2011

Class 2 EFB Changes ROI Equation

Welcome to Wired!

Aviation’s transition to a digital environment has been, for some time, a question of “When?” not “If?” There’s no denying that deciding when to upgrade a fleet for the Next Generation Air Transportation System involves a complex decision-making  equation. An important variable is when NextGen services will come online and start paying a return on the investment.

[EFB-PR2[4].jpg]When a system starts earning its keep is not a variable in stepping up to an electronic flight bag (EFB). As one of ASIG’s clients has proven (see ASIG Certifies iPad EFB on N-Jet Charter Fleet), the return on investment begins almost immediately. Jeppesen is one provider of EFB information. Touting its services in a whitepaper, Airside Services: Simplifying the Transition to Electronic Flight Bags, it estimated that more than 95 percent of globally operating commercial aircraft still rely on paper.

Why? Is it because operators are looking at the EFB extremes?

At the low end are Class 1 units, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)  computers like the Apple iPad that operate independently of aircraft power or data. As a personal electronic device, historically this unit must be turned off during takeoff and landing. This is when pilots have the greatest need for  EFB information, so there’s little or no return on that investment.

Class 3 EFBs are the high end of the spectrum. Hard wired into the airplane’s panel, they are heavy, expensive, and subject to the same requirements as all other installed avionics. Consequently, integrating them in a fleet of aircraft is expensive and time consuming, and time and money are important variables in any ROI evaluation.

So it seems that the Class 2 EFB is just right for any operator looking to balance benefits with time, money, and weight. Like Class 1, its digital heart in a COTS PED like the iPad. Unlike the Class 1, however, its connection to aircraft power and data resolves any issues of possible system interference , which means it provides uninterrupted information from block to block. And its mounting bracket keeps it in constant view of the pilot.

Most are aware of the manifest benefits of an electronic flight bag. All the navigation charts, operation manuals, company procedures, minimum equipment lists, and all the other information pilots must have at their fingertips fill each pilot’s “brain bag” with reams of paper that tip the scales at 50 pounds or more. In electronic form they weight no more than the system that stores and displays the data.

But there are other, equally important benefits, not often recognized. With paper, each pilot is responsible for keeping his flight bag current. Being who they are, pilots devise their own process for executing these critical revisions. And the chances for human error increase with the number of revisions they must make—and the time they have to perform them.

Employing wireless technology and unique radio-frequency identification of each EFB, an operator (with its data provider) can upload a standardized flight bag revision that has been created and verified by a team dedicated to this effort. This not only saves the time and money it takes to print and distribute revisions, it ensures accurate, on-time revisions that enhance the operator’s goals of safety, efficiency, and economy. All pilots have to do is call up the information they need—when they need it—without worrying about its accuracy or currency.

When it comes to Class 2 EFB integrations, ASIG has found that the most pressing question is whether to assign a pair of iPads to each aircraft in an airline’s fleet, or issue one to each pilot. Applying the rule of thumb that there are eight pilots for every aircraft provides a quick count, but the answer depends on the capabilities the operator wishes to employ beyond those needed in flight. With a removable Class 2 EFB’s wireless connection, pilots could use them for related tasks, such as bidding schedules. This is one of the many variables in the EFB investment equation that ASIG can help operators compute—and execute.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

NextGen SWIMs in a Pool of Linked Data

Welcome to Wired!

Data communication—a digital link between pilots, ATC, and an airline’s operations center (AOC)–is  (after PBN and ADS-B) the next building block  in the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Playing an essential role in every phase of flight, data comm is coming soon to airspace near you.

NextGen Phase of FlightIn 2012, the FAA should pick a vendor to  deploy and maintain the VHF data link (VDL) network that will serve aircraft equipped with a Future Air Navigation System(FANS). Towers should offer data comm departures by 2015, with en route centers right behind them, according to the FAA’s 2011 NextGen Implementation Plan.

SWIM, the System Wide Information Management system, unites the data pool. Sharing information from all sources, it gives everyone connected a common situational awareness, real-time information on airspace and terminal constraints, from congestion to weather, and ATC’s mitigation strategy.

Last year, the Corridor Integrated Weather System was the first ATC component connected to SWIM, followed by the Integrated Terminal Weather System in January 2011. Airport surface information is set for 2012, and all seven ATC systems should be in the SWIM by 2015. 

Data comm is not new. In 1978, ARINC introduced the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS).  An ICAO air traffic management (ATM) improvement committee, formed in 1983, took the next step. Seeing the capabilities of satellite-based digital communication, navigation, and surveillance (CNS), it conceived the data-linked FANS. 

Boeing unveiled FANS-1 in the early 1990s. Airbus followed with its FANS-A. Most airliners built since then are equipped with FANS-1/A, the ATM system for oceanic airspace. Adding a VDL module provides the FANS-1/A+ capabilities necessary for congested U.S. airspace. (ITA approaches are another benefit.)

The FAA demonstrated part of the system at Memphis in 2009. Working with FedEx, the Collaborative Departure Queue Management (CDQM) system shares real-time aircraft position data with controllers, pilots, airline operation centers, airport operators, and the ATC System Command Center. Instead of making a fuel sucking stop-and-go taxiway creep, flights hold at the gate until its their turn to make the nonstop trip for takeoff.

Last year, a version of this system kept things moving during the four-month improvement of JFK’s longest runway and its adjoining taxiways. And at Boston Logan, a one-month test of N-Control, the NextGen component that determines the maximum number of aircraft to push-back into the active movement area without slowing the constant flow departing aircraft, saved operators 18 hours of taxi-out time and 5,100 gallons of fuel.

VDL/FANS-1A+ enables departure clearances and airborne reroutes. As push-back time nears, data comm delivers the clearance. If necessary the pilots can negotiate changes with ATC before accepting the clearance, which feeds it to the plane’s flight management system. Reroutes work in a similar manner. ATC will assign reroutes as offsets. Tailored to each flight, the FAA says these offsets turn a single published route “into a multilane highway in the sky.”

imageThe Aeronautical Telecommunications Network (ATN) is a newer data comm system. Developed through ICAO, Europe is implementing Baseline 1, which can be integrated without modifying the navigation system on most aircraft. The FAA plans to implement ATN Baseline 2, which provides many more operational capabilities. ATN Baseline 3, which is now in development and undergoing international harmonization, will enable full implementation of NextGen’s long-term capabilities.

Data comm now provides routine and strategic information and will shortly automate a number of prosaic pilot and controller tasks. It will identify flight path conflicts, such as traffic or bad weather, and recommend a change in trajectory or speed to eliminate it. Using real-time flight data it will calculate and communicate safe, efficient, arrival details right down to gate assignment.

If necessary, pilots and ATC negotiate changes in FMS-ready data messages, which precisely and accurately convey more details in less time than it takes to talk about it. This reduces not only voice frequency congestion but miscommunications and fat-finger data entry errors. And it preserves voice channels for the most critical exchange of information.

Perhaps the most important aspect of data comm given in its 2011 NextGen Implementation is this: “The FAA is evaluating potential scenarios for best-equipped, best-served in which aircraft with this capability may receive more rapid or efficient reroutes during inclement weather.” Clearly, it is a case of sink or swim in a pool of data, and ASIG can get your fleet ready to dive in and move out.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!