Electronic flight bag
An electronic flight bag (EFB) is an electronic information management device that helps flight crews perform flight management tasks more easily and efficiently with less paper. It is a general purpose computing platform intended to reduce, or replace, paper-based reference material often found in the pilot's carry-on flight bag, including the aircraft operating manual, flight-crew operating manual, and navigational charts (including moving map for air and ground operations). In addition, the EFB can host purpose-built software applications to automate other functions normally conducted by hand, such as performance take-off calculations.
The EFB gets its name from the traditional pilot's flight bag, which is typically a heavy (up to 40 lb/18 kg or more) documents bag that pilots carry to the cockpit. The electronic flight bag is the replacement of those documents in a digital format. EFB weights are typically 1 to 5 pounds (0.5 to 2.2 kg), about the same as a laptop computer, and a fraction of the weight and volume of the paper publications. There are numerous benefits for using an EFB but specific benefits vary depending on the size of the operation, type of applications used, the existing content management and distribution system, the type of applications deployed. Some common benefits include: weight savings by replacing the traditional flight bag, reduced medical claims from handling traditional flight bags, reduced cost, and increased efficiency by reducing or eliminating paper processes. There are also claims of increased safety and reducing pilot workload.
There are also militarized variants, with secure data storage, night vision goggle compatible lighting, environmental hardening, and military specific applications and data.
EFB devices can display a variety of aviation data or perform basic calculations (including performance data and fuel calculations.). In the past, some of these functions were traditionally accomplished using paper references or were based on data provided to the flight crew by an airline's "flight dispatch" crew.
For large and turbine aircraft, FAR 91.503 requires the presence of navigational charts on the airplane. If an operator's sole source of navigational chart information is contained on an EFB, the operator must demonstrate the EFB will continue to operate throughout a decompression event, and thereafter, regardless of altitude. The only way to achieve this capability is by using a solid state disk drive or a standard rotating mass drive in a sealed enclosure.
The electronic flight bag market is estimated at $2.28 billion in 2015 and is expected to register a CAGR of 13.41% to reach $4.27 billion by 2020.
The earliest EFB precursors came from individual pilots in the early 1990s who used their personal laptops and common software (such as Spreadsheets and Word Processing applications) to perform such functions as weight and balance calculations and filling out operational forms. One of the earliest and broadest EFB implementations was in 1991 when FedEx deployed their Airport Performance Laptop Computer to carry out aircraft performance calculations on the aircraft (this was a commercial off-the-shelf computer and was considered portable). In addition, FedEx also began deploying Pilot Access Terminals on their airplane in the mid-1990s. These later devices were common laptops that used a certified docking station on the airplanes (to connect to power and data interfaces). In 1996, Aero Lloyd, a German carrier, introduced two laptops to compute the performance and access the documentation. The system called FMD (Flight Management Desktop) permits Aero Lloyd to remove all the documentation and RTOW in paper from the cockpit with the Luftfahrt-Bundesamt (German Civil Aviation Authority) agreement. Other companies, including Southwest followed with "carry-on" performance computers, but they remained on the airplane as a practical matter. JetBlue took a different approach by converting all of its operations documents to electronic format and distributing them over a network to laptop computers that were issued to pilots (versus to the airplane). The first true EFB, designed specifically to replace a pilot's entire kit bag, was patented by Angela Masson as the Electronic Kit Bag (EKB) in 1999. In 2005 the first commercial Class 2 EFB STC (STC No. ST03165AT) was issued that covered the installation of provisions for the deployment of the navAero t•BagC22 EFB computer and touchscreen display system. The installation was performed by Avionics Support Group, Inc. onto a Miami Air Boeing B737NG. The EFB t•Pad display was deployed using the US Patented (8231081) EFB mounting solution, the cfMount™ . The EFB data was updated using a Terminal Wireless Unit (TWLU) installed at Miami Air's facility, that enabled the EFB to update only the files that had changed on the server. In 2006 MyTravel (a UK charter operation now merged with Thomas Cook airline) became the first to deploy an electronic tech log using GPRS communication, replacing the paper process. Thomas Cook has several years of successful operational experience of an EFB focussed on its UK fleet.
In 2009, Continental Airlines successfully completed the world’s first flight using Jeppesen Airport Surface Area Moving Map (AMM) showing “own ship” position on a Class 2 Electronic Flight Bag platform – which was the navAero t•BagC22 EFB system. The AMM application uses a high resolution database to dynamically render maps of the airport. Through the use of GPS technology, the application show pilots their position (“own-ship”) on the airport surface map. The result is much improved positional/situational awareness among flight crews which is a critical safety factor for reducing runway incursions during ground operations especially at busy commercial airports with complex runway and taxiway layouts. The STC underwhich the navAero EFB system was deployed (ST02161LA) also provided for the dual EFB systems to be cross-connected which allowed for the Airport Moving Map to be shared (or “pushed”) from one EFB system to the other.
Beginning in 2011, and coinciding with the first anniversary of the release of the Apple iPad, an inventor named Richard Luke Ribich of Maumelle, AR made a number of applications to the USPTO for a series of patents regarding the integration of tablet-style computers with that of transport category (§25) aircraft deployed as EFB devices. The series of patents, which were assigned to ASIG (Avionics & Systems Integration Group of North Little Rock, AR) address the methods and apparatus necessary to successfully and securely integrate consumer tablet-computing devices such as Apple iPad and Microsoft Surface with that of transport category aircraft in both wired and wireless configurations. These patents (US Patent No. 8415925, Us Patent No. 8581546, and US Patent No. 9335796) were issued between April of 2013 and May 2016 and address aspects of mounting, device power, aircraft data interfaces and the ability to create custom apps by means of an API library known as a software developers kit (SDK). These patents consider both wired and wireless integration of various tablet computers with that of aircraft power distribution and avionics systems and protect Mr. Ribich's technologies against similar product manufacturing, sale, distribution, use, import/ export and integrated equivalents. Further, in January of 2014 the US FAA affirmed these patents as airworthy by issuing ASIG an AML-STC (Approved Model List - Supplemental Type Certificate) for the installation of Class 2 portable EFB provisions for the commercial product known as the flyTab XFB (eXtreme Flight Bag), an ASIG product line, under (STC No. ST11156SC). In June of 2014 the Canadian Civil Aviation Authority (TCCA - Transport Canada) issued their own STC for the flyTab XFB (STC No. SA14-51). These patents are currently being enforced throughout the United States and across North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and South America through various treaties and bilateral technology agreements in place between governments.
As personal computing technology became more compact and powerful, with extensive storage capabilities, these devices became capable of storing all the aeronautical charts for the entire world on a single three-pound (1.4 kg) computer, compared to the 80 lb (36 kg) of paper normally required for worldwide paper charts. New technologies such as real-time satellite weather and integration with GPS have further expanded the capabilities of electronic flight bags. However, for large commercial airlines, the primary problem with EFB systems is not the hardware on the aircraft, but the means to reliably and efficiently distribute content updates to the airplane.
While the adoption rate of the Electronic Flight Bag technology has been arguably slow among large scheduled air carriers, corporate operators have been rapidly deploying EFBs since 1999 due to reduced regulatory burden and easier cost justification.
The Air Force Special Operations Command purchased an initial supply of over 3,000 iPad-based EFBs which were globally fielded in July 2012. In a similar acquisition, Air Mobility Command initiated a contract for up to 18,000 iPad-based EFBs. The Air Force Special Operations Command internally developed a secure method of transferring the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency's (NGA) monthly Flight Information Publications (FLIP) dataset to all its users worldwide. Both Major Commands (MAJCOMs) pursued independent efforts to ensure continuous Ops for their aircrew. As a result of these pioneering successes, the DoD is now coordinating efforts for widespread, consolidated implementation of the EFB concept.
After trialing iPads as EFBs in 2011, Delta Air Lines announced in August 2013 it would roll out Microsoft Surface 2 devices to its pilots, replacing a policy allowing pilots to use personal tablets as EFBs. Delta planned to roll out the tablet to all of its pilots by May 2014, after FAA approval in February.
Electronic Flight Bags are divided into three hardware classes and three software types. Reference: FAA Advisory Circular AC 120-76D, EASA Acceptable Means of Compliance AMC 20-25, ICAO Document 10020 "EFB Manual" and FAA Order 8900.1 Inspector Handbook (esp. Vol 4 Chap 15) for the most recent and accurate descriptions:
Note: with the forthcoming release of AC 120-76D, the categorization of Electronic Flight Bag hardware into classes (below) will be retired. Going forward, EFB' s will simply be categorized as "Portable" or "Installed". Portable can be considered to consolidate the previous Class 1 and 2 distinctions, while Installed is equivalent to Class 3. These simplifications made to reduce confusion and to harmonize with already-released EASA and ICAO guidance.
EFB hardware classes include:
- Class 1 – Standard commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment such as laptops or handheld electronic devices. These devices are used as loose equipment and are typically stowed during critical phases of flight. A Class 1 EFB is considered a Portable Electronic Device (PED). Class 1 EFBs, such as Cockpit iPads, may be used to display Type B applications in critical phases of flight provided that they are 'secured and viewable'.
- Class 2 – Also Portable Electronic Devices, and range from modified COTS equipment to purpose-built devices. Mounting, power (ship's power as primary) or data connectivity of an EFB typically requires the application of an STC, Type Certificate or Amended Type Certificate. (ref: FAA Order 8900.1)
- Class 3 – Considered "installed equipment" and subject to airworthiness requirements and, unlike PEDs, they must be under design control. The hardware is subject to a limited number of RTCA DO-160E requirements (for non-essential equipment—typical crash safety and Conducted and Radiated Emissions testing). Class 3 EFBs are typically installed under STC or other airworthiness approval.
The EFB may host a wide array of applications, categorized in three software categories (Reference AC 120-76 as amended, for an actual list of examples):
- Type A
- Type B
- Static or dynamic electronic "charts" to include (though not requiring) panning, zooming, and scrolling; (AC120-76(), Appendix B)
- Type C
- For example: Airport Moving Map functionality deployed under a Technical Standard Order Authorization, and some elements of an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast system
Note: Type C applications are subject to airworthiness requirements and as such must be developed in conformance with DO-178()/ED-12() objectives. Type C applications must run on Class 3 EFB.
Note: with the forthcoming release of AC 120-76D, reference to Type C applications will be removed, and their functionality will no longer be recognized as EFB functions.
According to the FAA, Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3 EFB may act as a substitute for the paper manuals that pilots are otherwise required to carry with them. While Part 91 Operators (those not flying for hire, including private and corporate operators) can use their Pilot In Command (PIC) authority to approve the use of Class 1 and Class 2 EFBs (which are PEDs), operator with OpSpecs (Part 135, Part 121) must seek operational approval through the OpSpecs process.
EFB users and installers should be aware of recent, clarified guidance for FAA Inspectors. Draft guidance pertaining to EFB operational authorization and airworthiness/certification requirements is maintained by the FAA.
Clarifying the intent of FAA Advisory Circular AC 120-76A, new draft inspector handbook guidance includes the following requirements:
- PEDs used in a Class 1 or Class 2 configuration must meet the rapid decompression testing requirements of standard RTCA DO-160E.
- Any data connectivity of PEDs used in a Class 1 or Class 2 configuration to aircraft systems shall be performed in accordance with a Supplemental Type Certificate, Type Certificate or Amended Type Certificate.
- Any mounting or attachment of PEDs used in a Class 1 or Class 2 configuration to the aircraft shall be performed in accordance with a Supplemental Type Certificate, Type Certificate or Amended Type Certificate.
- Electronic chart software: The display of own-ship position ("spotter") on the ground must meet the requirements of AC 20-159 and/or TSO C-165.
- Electronic chart software: The display of own-ship position in flight is prohibited on Class 1 or 2 configurations.
- USPTO Patents # 17,974,775 Masson; Angela Electronic kit bag; and, # 27,970,531 Masson; Angela Electronic kit bag
- United States, Patent & trademark Office. "Method and apparatus for supplying power to a portable electronic device in an aircraft". USPTO Patent Search. US Government. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
- Cole, Shane (27 September 2013). "Delta Airlines to distribute Surface 2 to pilots after iPad trial". appleinsider.com. AppleInsider.com. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
- Gandhe, Shreyas (27 September 2013). "Delta Airlines to equip pilots with Surface 2 tablets". Neowin. Neowin. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
- Bort, Julie (10 January 2014). "Here's The Microsoft Surface 2 Tablet Delta Bought 11,000 Pilots Instead Of IPads". Business Insider Australia. Allure Media. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
- Reising, Don (11 February 2014). "Microsoft's Surface 2 cleared for takeoff in cockpit". CNet. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
- Dent, Steve (11 February 2014). "FAA clears Surface for takeoff in US cockpits". Engadget. AOL Tech. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
- Walker, James (11 February 2014). "Microsoft Surface 2 approved by FAA for use in airline cockpits". Neowin. Neowin. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
- FAA: EFB operational authorization and airworthiness/certification requirements
- FAA AC 91-78 (July 2007) – Use of Class 1 and 2 EFBs
- Flight Document System for iPad
For historical reference on EFB market progression, also see:
- FAA Order 8900.1 (found on FSIMS), Key word search EFB, dated February 2009 (most recent and accurate guidance)
- FAA Advisory Circular 120-76C
- JAA Temporary Guidance Leaflet 36