The Promise of the Electronic Flight Bag


By Capt. Mack Moore (United, Ret.), Capt. George Gil (United), and Charlie Bergman, Manager, Air Safety and Operations, ALPA Engineering and Air Safety Department
Air Line Pilot, February 2004, p.20

The introduction of electronic flight bags (EFBs) for airliner cockpits is a movement that is beginning to gain momentum, thanks in part to the efforts of ALPA pilot safety representatives and professional staff over the past several years. A number of domestic and international airlines have already implemented EFB programs with a variety of software applications that reduce pilot workload while improving situational awareness, operational efficiency, and safety.

Electronic flight bag programs with a variety of software applications that reduce pilot workload while improving situational awareness, operational efficiency, and safety.

The move to in-cockpit use of EFBs is more than moving from paper charts and manuals to electronic displays. In the near term, EFBs offer a compact format for a library of publications, charts, and worldwide procedures; in the future, they will also provide real-time weather, notices to airmen (NOTAMs), and others services to the cockpit to aid pilots in making decisions.

FAA Advisory Circular 120-76A lists nearly 80 examples of software applications for use with EFBs. A few examples of these electronic applications include flight operations manuals and SOPs, takeoff and landing performance calculations, weight-and-balance calculations, approach charts, and cockpit moving-map displays (CMMD) for use on the airport surface.

ALPA pilot safety representatives and staff worked with the FAA and other airline industry partners to produce AC 120-76A, which was released in March 2003. It provides guidance for certification, airworthiness, and operational approval of both portable and installed EFB hardware and software applications.

One of the most important software applications available on the EFB is the CMMD that shows pilots the position of their own airplane—own-ship position—to help them maintain situational awareness on the airport surface.

In the most comprehensive study to date of runway incursion risk mitigation, completed in December 2002, the joint government/industry Runway Incursion Joint Safety Implementation Team, after reviewing more than 800 runway incursion accidents and incidents and considering more than 150 risk mitigation strategies, concluded that the CMMD with own-ship position was judged the most powerful "safety enhancement" to lessen the risk of runway incursions. Since then, ALPA has worked to facilitate introduction of CMMDs throughout airlines’ fleets.

ALPA staff also worked directly with FAA staff to produce Technical Standard Order C-165 (Electronic Map Display Equipment for Graphical Depiction of Aircraft Position). This TSO opened the door for delivery of the first CMMD with own-ship position. Boeing delivered an integrated Class 3 EFB with own-ship position to its launch customer KLM in October 2003 on a Boeing 777.

Boeing is currently in negotiations with a number of U.S. carriers to include EFB platforms for retrofit on the Boeing family of airliners. United, for example, is considering an EFB for one of its fleets. Also, FedEx, by early 2005, will complete EFB installation in its entire fleet. Its applications, currently focused primarily on maintenance, will expand considerably to provide pilots multiple user-friendly applications.

ALPA pilot volunteers and staff recently reviewed and provided comment to Boeing on plans for B-737, B-747, and B-777 retrofits. They will continue to remain strong advocates for industrywide implementation of EFB applications.

ALPA is also involved in the development of new EFB standards. Pilot safety representatives and staff recently provided Boeing engineers objective and subjective feedback on the design of future EFB applications. The testing and feedback were conducted in a Boeing 777 simulator and involved 8 hours of taxiing on Chicago O’Hare International Airport in 700 RVR. These limited-visibility operations were used to compare the use of paper charts with an EFB with own-ship position and with an EFB with own-ship position and a magenta-depicted taxi route. This ability to display the magenta taxi route will likely be incorporated into future EFB design applications.

Despite ALPA’s significant progress in preparing the way for airlines to equip with EFBs, a number of challenges lie ahead.

Cost is probably the biggest issue. Retrofitting existing cockpits with a Class 3 device, like those delivered on the B-777, is likely not cost-effective. The answer appears to be available in a Class 2 EFB, a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) laptop-like EFB. Significant certification and operational approval challenges remain for Class 2 devices, particularly with the depiction of own-ship position.

Secondly, despite the fact that nearly 80 software applications are available for EFBs, airlines seem focused on the business case for performance calculations, electronic documents (via ethernet-like connection), and airport moving maps. To date, no U.S. customer has surfaced for the Boeing Class 2 or 3 devices.

As EFB applications mature and become more cost-effective, airlines’ motivation to equip should improve.

Rest assured, ALPA will continue its quest to get airliners equipped with EFBs to gain the safety, efficiency, and improved situational awareness available in EFB applications.