Since the launch of Apple’s iPad in 2010, pilots around the world have been shifting from carrying heavy bags of paper manuals and charts to using tablet-based Electronic Flight Bags (EFB). EFBs deliver multiple benefits to pilots, including ease of handling, faster search and a growing selection of pilot-specific apps to solve problems from real-time weather forecasting to route optimization. Viasat is at the forefront of EFB development, leading with the Aerodocs document viewer app.
A regular gathering highlighting the latest EFB products and trends was held in Madrid in November 2019. At the EFB Users Forum, the Viasat Flight Ops team was there to demo Aerodocs, the future of intelligent information in aviation, and to learn more about how we can best optimize data to benefit flight crews and airline operations. The event is attended by airline pilots, flight ops and EFB managers.
Key topics at the Madrid event included the transition to digital, the evolution of digital PDF to XML (eXtensible Markup Language - the next generation of smart, structure documents), and the environmental benefits of EFB in eliminating paper, reducing aircraft weight, and the use of real-time data insights to reduce fuel burn and cut CO2 emissions.
Digital transformation as enabled by EFB
The Electronic Flight Bag replaces up to 40kg (88 lbs) of paper manuals with a personal electronic device, such as an Apple iPad. Many airlines have yet to go paperless, or are still at the early stage of transition to digital. Among the key benefits of switching from paper to digital EFB, as reported by airlines at the event, are:
- Weight savings
- Elimination of paper logistics
- Improvements in performance by cutting engine wear and fuel consumption
- Increased safety, with fewer errors or missing documents
- Real-time weather updates and flight optimization
The EFB Users Forum made clear that it’s only a matter of time before every air operation embraces the EFB, with the multiple benefits that it can deliver.
A new app from Viasat
Viasat unveiled its new native iOS Viewer app for pilot iPad EFBs at the event. Senior pilots from many major airlines took the app for a test flight and were able to intuitively find, arrange and search manuals.
The feedback we received focused on three key benefits that the app delivers:
- Faster, more responsive search on the flight deck
- Bookmarks and annotations persist - stored on the server, not the device
- Pilots can arrange documents in custom groups so that fast access to the right information at the right time becomes second nature.
Evolving from ‘dumb’ PDF to smart XML digital documents
PDFs served pilots well as the first step in the digitization of airline and OEM (aircraft manufacturer) manuals.
But the limitations of PDFs become apparent when the enhanced functionalities of XML documents are considered:
- Vastly improved search, through use of metadata
- Persistent annotations and bookmarks
- Cross-linking between documents
- Multiple documents open at the same time
- Gather documents into workspaces for faster access and search
Connected flight deck data and CO2 reduction
With commercial aviation facing imminent, mandatory emissions-reduction targets, fuel savings are key. Reducing fuel burn not only helps to ensure a healthy bottom line, but it also reduces CO2 emissions. By connecting the EFB to the aircraft via an AID - Aircraft Interface Device - and then enabling connectivity with an IFC network (such as Viasat’s), the connected aircraft becomes a reality.
Benefits of connected EFB:
- Flight Ops updates
- Documentation updates
- Weather updates
4D route optimization. This benefit can have a measurable impact on fuel burn and CO2 emissions.
Presentations by Qantas, Southwest, Finnair
Dave Summergreene, B787 First Officer at Qantas, gave an engaging presentation on the airline’s dashboarding of data - FlightPulse by GE. This gives pilots access to useful data so that they can optimize flights and reduce fuel burn. Pilots want to see data, so this app surfaces data, but in a way that enables actionable insights.
According to GE:
- $11 billion is overspent on fuel each year, equating to 5% of total industry cost.
- Airlines need to engage pilots so as to retain them, with 554,000 new pilots needed by 2037.
- There are 45 FDM (flight data monitoring) events for every 1,000 flights, e.g. hard landing.
Data security and trust are very important, so Qantas made it clear to pilots that their data would never be used against them. Pilots can now see their individual performance and also how that compares to the collective performance. 35% of Qantas pilots are now using the app; 5.71 million kg of emissions has been avoided. Pilots are now analyzing data and closing the loop. As Summergreene put it: “What good is data on servers if you can’t give it to the people who’d make use of it?”
Qantas wants to set pilots up for success. FlightPulse was designed by pilots, for pilots, and its use of data falls under “Just Culture” (defined as a culture in which front-line operators and others are not punished for actions, omissions or decisions taken by them that are commensurate with their experience and training).
Southwest did a joint presentation with Lextech on a Flight Attendant EFB backup. In the US, each flight attendant is required to carry their own set of manuals. The airline uses the iPad Mini and had a problem whenever a flight attendant forgot to bring their company-issued device to work (they would have to print out 750 pages to carry onboard).
The new system allows the attendant to download the required manuals onto their personal device, with one-time use and built-in expiry, ensuring that outdated content cannot be referenced at a later date. Delta commented that their EFB devices carry a mini set of documents for all aircraft types so they can be loaned.
Henri Lonn, EFB Manager at Finnair, presented on the business case for EFB:
- Weight savings
- Paper logistics eliminated
- Performance: engine wear/fuel
- Safety: fewer errors, missing documents
- Real-time weather updates, flight optimization
Lonn also disclosed a useful rule of thumb for weight savings: Fuel burn saving is 3% of saved weight per flight hour.
The Viasat advantage in EFB and Connected Flight Deck
Viasat Aerodocs not only manages the controlled distribution and viewing of PDFs to pilot EFB devices, but it also delivers advanced XML editing functionality to flight operations. XML document creation and editing used to be a complex process with a steep learning curve for manual owners. Viasat’s focus on the user experience, and our design thinking philosophy, means that the Aerodocs XML editor is intuitive, easy-to-use and less prone to operator errors.
Rethink flight ops
In conjunction with the Viasat Connected Flight Deck, pilots can now receive manual updates in real-time, and send feedback to manual owners in-flight, with the confidence delivered by Viasat’s network security. Our partnerships with aircraft interface device manufacturers enable multiple benefits for airlines, including real-time weather updates and live aircraft data streaming to the ground. Our holistic approach ensures that airlines can achieve maximum benefits in pilot experience, and also flight optimization with fuel savings and reductions in CO2 emissions, with our range of apps which are optimized for our satellite network.