More and more flight departments across the aviation industry are realizing that adopting the iPad as an electronic flight bag makes both economic and operational sense.
In addition to specific apps, the iPads Safari browser is a powerful tool. For instance, crews can use the browser to check the Fugro Weather service to monitor current rig weather/status and orientation in real-time.
Since its launch in early 2010, Apples iPad has taken the world by storm, racking up over 25 million units sold and counting. It was only a question of when, not if, the device would create a footprint in aviation; shortly after its release, general aviation enthusiasts, followed by commercial aviation and airline operators, began to mine its vast potential.
Today, the iPad allows aviation professionals to read the latest issue of Vertical and so much more. Countless applications apps for short have made the device a more affordable and often better-suited alternative to traditional electronic flight bags (EFBs). Those apps provide capabilities that reach from flight planning functionality, to the display of electronic charts, electronic record keeping and maintenance tracking, to in-flight communications and real-time data transfer; to name only a few.
While the iPad is not the first, it is likely the most unique, compact, durable and user-friendly aviation tablet device to date. It offers the capabilities of most commercial aviation EFBs at a fraction of the cost. Numerous civil aviation authorities and manufacturers alike have recognized its impact and have supported its progress through both the granting of approvals and the furthering of research and development, respectively.
It Begins: The Operational Embrace
In May 2011, Alaska Airlines became the first United States air carrier to obtain Federal Aviation Administration approval to replace on-board flight operations documentation with electronic manuals displayed on iPads. Others airlines around the world have since followed suit, and a few are looking at equipping cabin crew with the devices to aid in on-board customer service.
Meanwhile, on the rotary-wing side of aviation, CHC Helicopter is one of the larger operators leading the transition to the iPad (it currently has 460 of the tablets on order for its flight operations). Guido Lepore, CHCs manager of flight standards, recognized the devices potential for cost savings and operational benefits early in the tablets history. Appropriately, at the beginning of 2011 CHC obtained conditional Transport Canada approval of a multi-phase process aimed at fleet-wide implementation of paperless cockpits based on dual iPads. This followed a series of technical trials, stringent document control, data management procedures and an on-going monitoring process. (In August, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands became the second regulator to grant CHC authority for paperless cockpits based on dual iPads.)
Part of what Lepore recognized was the user-friendliness of the device, which improves efficiency and safety. In the cockpit, time management is essential, and pilots can quickly and efficiently access information with an iPad. Compared to paper manuals, digital publications and data are much easier to navigate because of the added document structures and hyperlinks. Updating manuals also becomes a far simpler and generally automated process.
Parallel to the flight operations implementation, I initiated a training improvement project that originated from the requirement of more timely distribution of training materials and alignment with actual operational procedures. One of my first experiments was to replace all manuals and checklists in the simulator environment with a single iPad. My trial crew had never before used an iPad, iPhone or other tablet device. After briefing them for less than 15 minutes, supported by occasional hints, the pilots efficiently used all operations manuals and checklists during the first training period. Overall, the easy control they had of various functions spoke for itself, which leads to the next important point: cockpit ergonomics.
In any cockpit, large or small, crews are exposed to various environmental conditions and must contend with their own physiological responses. Aspects such a lighting effects, vibration, a persons age and eyesight, and graphical versus textual data affect our ability to view information. The iPads display, brightness control and helpful, easy-to-use zoom function, however, make it well-suited for most people under a variety of conditions. While screen reflection may be of more concern than on some other EFBs, films that are typically applied to protect the device will also reduce most of the glare.
Economics: The Driving Factor?
In todays economic climate, most helicopter and fixed-wing operators are on a quest to control costs and increase profit margins. Apart from improving document control and distribution, specific iPad apps such as maintenance tracking, electronic record keeping and standardized flight planning provide opportunities to automate and streamline processes and eliminate costly data entry errors. A recent analysis by a major international helicopter company found that over a contract period, the savings from replacing traditional documentation with electronic content could enable a multi-million-dollar increase in profits on a single aircraft. While this is a unique example, it is nevertheless true that most operators should achieve various cost savings and productivity increases in both flight and maintenance operations by transitioning to electronic support systems.
Manufacturers and service providers also have clearly recognized the iPads potential. Eurocopter, for one, is hard at work to roll out iPad-suitable reference documentation for crews. Last summer, Jeppesen, a major flight information and chart provider, made its terminal and approach chart publications available on the iPad via its new Mobile TC (terminal charts) app. And, the FAA recently cited this app as part of the process used by an operator to establish the iPad as an EFB. This summer, Jeppesen went a step further, introducing Mobile FliteDeck, the industrys first interactive, mobile, en-route flight application.
Steady progress also appears to be underway in the field of aircraft system interfaces to facilitate automated data transfer, semi-automated flight logs, advanced communications, automated flight following and more. From an earlier article (see p.70, Vertical, June-July 2011), you may remember a number of service providers leading the development of satellite flight following and communications. As of today, we know that together with various operators, the R&D being done by these manufacturers now includes mobile apps and system interfaces alike.
It is the foundation and functionality of the iPad that has made it attractive as an EFB. It has a stable operating system with minimal boot time. It has long battery life, ruggedness, durability and an ever-increasing number of apps. Document and data exchange, meanwhile, can take place from most existing office networks or standalone computers, allowing operators to easily produce and manage their own documentation. This facilitates increasing customization to address operationally specific needs. So, for example, operators who have specialty GPS requirements (as firefighting and seismic units do) can store a large number of custom tactical charts and information and combine this with a simple Bluetooth-enabled GPS receiver (good units start at around $100 to $150 US) to have a perfect, specialized moving map providing information beyond traditional terrain and obstacle data. Finally, the built-in camera on second-generation iPads allows you to capture and transmit a multitude of operational and maintenance information quickly and easily.
Taking the Leap
Most recently, I have discovered the iPads usefulness in an expanded team environment. For search and rescue missions, CHC is currently testing an aircraft equipped with three or four iPads: two in the cockpit and one or two in the cabin. Up until launch, all iPads are constantly being synchronized and updated with the most recent, pertinent planning information. This provides the team with an excellent means of simplifying and streamlining the management of relevant data, crew briefings, record keeping and other processes. One could even preload other specialized apps and documents, such as medical reference manuals, process flows for assessing victims and medical checklists. The whole process is equally applicable to those other teams (law enforcement, fire, air medical) for which up-to-date tactical information is key.
Currently, the iPad depends on Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity. In the future, real-time communication capabilities will expand beyond these limitations. Multiple manufacturers either have or are in the process of integrating wireless functionality into their satellite tracking/communications packages to provide a hot-link that could interface with on-board iPads, anywhere in the world.
If by now you are considering integrating the iPad as an EFB into your operations, there are a few simple steps I would suggest taking. Begin by talking to other operators and industry professionals seek their advice and discuss their experiences with respect to functionality, apps, advantages and disadvantages, and anything else that can help you identify your requirements. Look for industry working groups that can offer free feedback and advice. And, talk to original equipment manufacturers, they are frequently keen to discuss your ideas and questions as it drives their own R&D and product improvement.
With a preliminary plan in place, discuss the project with your countrys regulatory authorities. Your decision on the final level of integration will determine how involved the approval process will be. Engage them early and keep them actively involved throughout this can avoid delays and save you a lot of grief and expense.
Two other critical aspects are securing and backing up your data, and ensuring your information and applications are always accessible and functioning you will need to prove both to the regulator. Simple security protocols will prevent any changes to the installed application structure (and protocols protecting against potential loss or theft of the devices are not a bad idea, either). And, while the iPad already has been accepted as a stable operating system, most authorities will require that you demonstrate processes and procedures for its use in your particular operation. Examples are overall system management, document control and updates, data backup, system redundancy and others. Regulators normally require some form of equipment validation tests (e.g., electromagnetic interference tests) to confirm that the device does not adversely affect on-board aircraft systems, and vice versa. Often a trial period will be established, which, through various evaluation stages, can eventually lead to a paperless cockpit, if that is your aim. (Some operators may continue to favor a combination of the iPad and paper documents).
In commercial aviation, some procedures for which you are using the iPad may require a suitable, certified mounting solution. While some authorities accept simplified processes (e.g., FAA Form 337), most require a supplemental type certificate. Work with OEMs and your regulator to find a solution that meets your requirements and budget, whether you are designing your own or getting an off-the-shelf solution from a company like RAM Mounting Systems.
What Apps Should We Get?
At last check, there were hundreds of aviation apps for the iPad (including some apps designed for its sister devices, the iPhone and iPod Touch, that can be used on the iPad to varying degrees). So, while we cant define a list specific to each readers needs, we can define a few categories of apps to consider, and mention some possibilities for each (check p.93 for other useful and fun app suggestions):
1. Document Control. These are essential. Your authority will require you to have a detailed process and support structure in place to ensure document control, distribution and updates. While there are a number of apps available to manage publications (e.g., Documents to Go, PDF Reader Pro), GoodReader likely offers the best capabilities and functionality, and has a clear document management structure that supports secure synchronization with an FTP data server. And, its ability to browse multiple documents simultaneously makes it particularly useful in the cockpit.
2. Flight Planning. While some larger operators may opt for their own company-specific flight planning and recordkeeping apps, Foreflight Mobile HD is a great all-in-one solution to consider. As specified in its product slogan Plates. Charts. Navlog. A/FD (airport/facility directory). Rock and Roll the app includes pertinent planning data and in-flight functionality. Also, a built-in update manager imports new chart data every 28 days. For more specific requirements and custom-fit solutions, consider partnering with an engineering solutions provider, such as Appareo.
3. Professional Charting. The aforementioned free Jeppesen Mobile TC is a good example in this category. Mobile TC enables Jeppesen electronic charting subscribers to view instrument procedure plates, airport information and other details on the iPad with no extra subscription required. The update process is simple and viewing plates using the iPads zoom function introduces a wow factor.
4. Customized Charting. If you need customized charts, be creative! One way is to scan charts and publish them in a PDF format. If you desire a more powerful solution, consider joining with a developer (and maybe a few other operators) to create your own app.
5. Other Flight Information and General Data. The iPads pre-installed Safari browser is itself a powerful app. In addition, many navigation data providers are remodeling their websites to support mobile devices. In the meantime, most flight information can already be viewed through sites such as the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations aviation weather center, NavCanadas aviation weather web site, the United Kingdoms NATS website and commercial provider AvBriefs aviation data website.
To keep yourself abreast of developments, learn about the latest apps and products by making use of free workshops and reference materials, and registering with OEMs, aviation suppliers and industry news sources. Sportys Pilot Shop regularly distributes useful information about the latest iPad-related materials. Aggregator sites like aviatorapps.com, meanwhile, have comprehensive lists of all the iPad aviation apps currently available.
Switching to the iPad can make great economic sense, but it helps to produce a business case, even a simple one, to support your decision. Although most of this article relates to flight operations, applications in maintenance offer equal, if not greater potential. And, even though weve focused on the more popular and prevalent iPad, other tablet devices can be suitable as EFBs, too. But, no matter what device you choose and what you do with it, probably the best advice of all is get going!
Currently flying the AS332 in offshore and search-and-rescue roles, David is an approved examiner with both helicopter and airplane ratings. He holds a masters degree, has worked in various positions in training and management, and has an overall passion for aviation and technology.