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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.
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!