How to start an EFB Project- PART II
How do we select the right path toward an app-based or platform-based EFB?
Suppose you start implementing an EFB solution consisting of more than a Chart Viewer and Performance solutions. In that case, you are, in reality, pushing an iceberg in front of you as you, with this structure, introduce multiple apps and structures that you inevitably will have to revise/re-consider/re-do at a later stage. Adding app by app means you are building up a desiccated structure as the apps are not connected or integrated. Sooner or later, you will need an integrated EFB platform to reduce the number of apps used. Otherwise, the crew’s workflow will become confusing and fragmented because it does not offer an integrated and interconnected workflow. Non-interconnected apps mean pilots must re-enter data obtained or calculated in other modules.
In many cases, an EFB app-based solution requires more pilot efforts and pilot time to complete the pre-flight, in-flight, and/or post-flight reporting than a paper-based environment. Many examples of airlines have ended up with 15 – 20 different apps to cover all their reporting needs this way, also tempted by the seemingly lower initial costs. But once there, most airlines find themselves in a situation where they must re-do the whole EFB strategy and implement a more effective workflow by incorporating an EFB Platform solution. Otherwise, they will not be technically able to reduce the number of apps needed. By incorporating an EFB Platform solution, the airline can secure an inter-connected data flow between the modules, and all needed IT integrations can be controlled/managed centrally.
Is the latter achievable for a Partial paperless cockpit versus a fully paperless cockpit?
a) What does a fully paperless cockpit environment mean?
A fully paperless cockpit means that all processes run digitally via the EFB system solution, and it typically includes the following functions:
- Flight Briefing process
- Pre-flight and Post-flight reporting
- Electronic Flight Planning
- Electronic Chart Viewer
- M & B/eLoadsheet planning (or receipt of eLoadsheet from the Ground DCS systems)
- Cockpit Security Checks
- Cabin Security Checks
- Document Library
- Safety Management Reporting
- Take-off and Landing Performance calculations
- ETL Electronic Techlog reporting covering MEL & Defect Reporting incl.
Corrective action confirmation from the Maintenance system and involving that the Mechanics also have a digital workflow and sign-off process on an eTechlog EFB unit that belongs to the aircraft tail (as the aircraft and crew can otherwise not go entirely paperless).
b) Is an entire digital cockpit environment achievable when deploying your initial EFB project – and is it realistic to implement from the start?
A complete digital cockpit is achievable in theory. Still, since all cockpit briefing processes, reporting, and calculation requirements are comprehensive and need to be linked to multiple different back-end IT systems for data import/export, it is not realistic to implement and certify a fully digital solution in one go. The certification process gets too complex, and aspects like crew training can get too comprehensive if too many modules and processes are changed in one go. Combining too many EFB initiatives in one go also prolongs the project time and complexity compared to a stepped onboarding plan. Another aspect is that CAA EFB Inspectors generally do not favor big changes in airlines with the approval/inspection process to obtain CAA operational flight test approval for a new EFB solution.
The general recommendation/typical steps are the following:
a) Basic EFB app use phase establishment
- (i.e., Hardware approval incl. Chart Viewer & Performance app Approval)
b) EFB Platform implementation phase
- Pre-flight reporting
- Loadsheet planning
- Document Library
- In-flight eOFP Electronic Flight Planning & Reporting
- Post-flight reporting
- App integrations between EFB PLatform and Chart Viewer apps, Take-Off/Landing Performance apps, and other needed 3rd party apps
- IT integration to Flight Planning/Briefing system
- IT integrations to Scheduling/Crew planning system
C) Full digital EFB use phase (incl. eTechlog)
This last phase requires an EFB platform solution to reduce the number of apps in use and to provide pilots with a common workflow. It is more difficult to achieve as it requires that the eTechlog reporting goes digital, covering MEL and defect Reporting and corrective action/flight release functionality integrated with the
maintenance system and an eTechlog hardware unit following the
aircraft to document its Techlog status. It is recommended to run eTechlog projects separately from EFB Platform implementations as the combination of the two will prolong the onboarding time significantly, and typically, you will have to deal with 2 EFB Inspectors simultaneously, one from the flight ops side and one from the maintenance side, which is not practical.
For example, when deploying Type A software (Document Library), you must certify a Class I/Stowage unit to support this use. If you deploy Type B software, i.e., Electronic Flight Planning Module, Chart Viewer, etc., you must certify a Class II/Mounted solution that can be used during climb/cruise/descent phases.
The mounted solution can be STC mounts bolted into the aircraft (require STC approval), or it can be Viewable Stowage units (i.e., Suction cup mounts), which allow operational use in all phases of flight but which are not attached permanently to the aircraft.
b) Power supplies
You can deploy an EFB solution based on only policy; this requires a minimum charge level of the iPads, usually a 3rd EFB unit, to be available and supported by a power bank use policy. But to have operational security and flexibility, most airlines install USB Power Supply units in the aircraft (STC required for building in power supply units); alternatively, already existing USB charging ports can be used. As mounting power supplies requires aircraft downtime, it takes careful planning in advance to not end up in a situation where you have everything ready but need to wait until power supplies are mounted.
c) EMI testing
The airline needs to perform EMI testing in the aircraft of the hardware units planned for use when mounted in the correct position in the aircraft. Your local Avionics technicians can perform the EMI testing. The EMI test report must be submitted with the CAA application for approval.
d) Hardware decompression testing
The hardware units you intend to deploy must be decompression tested. The decompression tests are typically available from manufacturers and aeronautical chart viewer vendors. They must be included with your CAA application if it’s the first time you certify an EFB hardware unit for cockpit use. Suppose you already have EFB hardware units approved for Class I (Stowable units) use or Class II (Viewable Stowage units) use. In that case, you are facing only to send in a Type B Software change request application to your local CAA, which is much simpler to perform and which require much less documentation than the first time where you deploy both new hardware units and software.
f) Connectivity solutions
You will need to supplement your use of WiFi connections in the airports with a suitable 3G/4G/5G connectivity subscription so that each crew can always update the EFB system and can submit pre-flight and post-flight reports and receive flight plan updates as needed when not connected to a WiFi source.
It is paramount that you think in a connectivity strategy, as there is not much point in establishing an electronic pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight briefing and reporting process if you do not have the intention to provide crews with a connectivity solution they can use when not WiFi connected, as they otherwise lose the advantage of being able to update the EFB system whenever needed and to carry out pre-flight and post-flight reporting whenever needed when WiFi is not available.
At IFS, we recommend you consider more specialized connectivity providers such as GigSky, who specialize in providing mission-critical connectivity solutions to the Airline and maritime segments. The difference between local Connectivity vendors and specialized vendors like GigSky is that the latter also provides a web-based back-office account from where you can control access points to websites to minimize connectivity consumption to being only mission-relevant.
The Software functionality considerations will boil down to a few fundamental principles:
a) First, you must understand what solutions are available from EFB Platform vendors versus the various single/dual function apps offered.
Please note that the single/dual-function apps are not EFB platform solutions as they do not include a Back-office portal engine that handles data storage and IT integration. Typically, they do not include an inter-connected exchange of data.
- An EFB platform solution will help you reduce the number of apps required
- It will secure a uniform and effective/intuitive workflow for the crew
- It will secure your IT data integration and hosting needs
- It means you will avoid high costs as your IT team does not need to “invent the wheel” in-house as EFB Platform solutions include the whole back-office structure and hosting by design. They were built for easy administration and for handling all integration purposes.
b) Once you understand the difference between EFB apps and EFB Platform solutions, you can create your EFB strategy, all concerning where you are right now, which route you want to take, and which processes you want to digitalize/
- Typically, you should ask yourself the following questions:
1 – Do we want a Chart Viewer app?
2 – Do we want a Take-Off and Landing performance app?
3 – Do we want a Document Library app?
4 – Do we want a digital Briefing process?
5 – Do we want a digital Pre-flight reporting process and fuel uplift management?
6 – Do we want a digital In-flight reporting process (eOPF, eFuel, eTime checks)?
7 – Do we want to incorporate Ground DCS load sheets into a digital Briefing process?
8 – Do we want to incorporate M & B/eLoadsheet planning to be done by the crew?
9 – Do we want to combine Ground DCS load sheet data with a load sheet done by the crew?
10 – Do we want a digital Post-flight reporting process or message reporting?
11 – Do we want an eReporting solution for filling Safety Management reports?
12 – Do we need the pilots to perform Cockpit Security checks digitally?
13 – Do we need the Cabin staff to perform Cabin Security checks digitally?
14 – Do the Cabin staff need their own Document Library module?
15 – Do we want a Back-Office portal engine where all flight data are stored?
An EFB platform solution typically can cover all the above functionalities from Point 3 through Point 15. Still, for implementation purposes, it is wise to make a selection all in relation to your current operational structures in force. Unfortunately, most airlines still pick a few items as the next project step: implement more apps instead of choosing an EFB platform early on with which you can extend your application in steps whenever needed and as needed. At the same time, you have a sound EFB structure in place that can support your EFB strategy long-term.
Many operators have typically already implemented a Document Library solution, a Chart Viewer/Route Manual app, and, in many cases, a Take-off/Landing Performance app. The trick is to determine which modules you should implement next. A hint is that once you look at digitizing your cockpit workflow process, grouping functions together for implementation is much more constructive. If you want an Electronic Flight Planning module (eOPF/EFF module) that integrates with your Flight Planning system, it is impractical not to consider pre-flight and post-flight reporting in the same process. If you don’t include that, you risk getting a desiccated workflow where the pilot has to jump between input sequences, paper reporting, and electronic reporting, leading to a disrupted workflow. As most EFB platform solutions integrate with the Chart Viewers available (Lido eRM, Lido mPilot, Jeppesen MFD Pro, NavBlue Charts+), the natural next step is to implement an EFB platform covering the whole process from Pre-flight to in-flight to Post-flight reporting built into an integrated and effective workflow.
- You should define your Employee goals when conducting an EFB implementation project. Even though the company goals are paramount, the employee goals are quite relevant to define since the crews’ working conditions influence how much you can obtain the full advantage of the EFB System solution.
- Crew accessibility to Flight Briefing information even before they meet for work will save time and increase awareness as it provides situational awareness to upcoming challenges much earlier than when meeting physically in a briefing room at check-in or in the cockpit. This will, for example, require personal EFB units and a connectivity solution and policy. (Access to “relevant-only” websites and apps can be restricted and managed with MDM – Mobile Device Management software solutions in combination with Connectivity provider’s portal restriction settings such as GigSky).
In summary, implementing an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) solution in aviation requires a strategic approach. Opting for a fragmented, app-based system may seem cost-effective initially but often leads to inefficiencies and the need for a complete overhaul. A comprehensive, integrated EFB platform is often a more effective long-term solution. Transitioning to a fully paperless cockpit is complex and is best done in phases, from basic apps to full EFB Platform implementation and finally to a fully digital phase, including maintenance tech logs. Hardware considerations such as mounts and power supplies require careful planning and certification, as do software functionalities. Connectivity is also a key concern. Employee goals should align with the broader company objectives for maximum benefit. A phased implementation can help in easier adaptation and less complexity in certification processes. It’s crucial to think long-term and holistic, ensuring your EFB strategy fits into the broader operational structures of your airline.