EFBs: where do you stop?

At the National Business Aircraft Association conference and exhibition in Las Vegas earlier this month one of the phenomena was that everyone who is anyone was offering an iPad app to enable easy access the service they provided. The premise, presumably, is that most pilots have an iPad, and anyone who doesn’t soon will.

Are they right?

Yes. The most crowded event among the briefings on offer at the NBAA was the iPads in the cockpit session. Not surprising, given that pilots are among the world’s greatest lovers of new toys. But there is more to it than that.

Although compact laptops have been offered as EFBs for years, there is nothing quite so compact as Apple’s tablet, and on flightdecks, size matters. So airlines and business aircraft operators have been rushing to win approval for iPads in the EFB role.

Now think back only a few years. In about 2002 Boeing/Jeppesen was offering a Class 3 built-in EFB for its 777s that couldn’t do any more than an iPad can now at a tiny fraction of the cost. And, since then, the software providers have been busy making paper charts and manuals of all kinds obsolete.

Now, a small, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hand-held device can replace entire aircraft libraries and heavy pilot flight bags packed with paperwork that was a nightmare to keep up to date. It’s a tech log, an operators manual, a digital chart library, its calculator function can carry out all the performance calculations to a degree of accuracy that use of the old paper graphs could not possibly mimic.

My point is that it’s difficult to see why there is any serious point in building Class 3 EFBs into aeroplanes when they offer so little in the way of advantage and cannot possibly compete on the cost front. They may offer total integration with the aircraft systems, but how much of an advantage is that?

Not much. It’s just another pilot/aeroplane interface, and who needs yet another?

Why not go for a state-of-the-art COTS tablet at Class 1+ EFB level. The ”+” is a cockpit mounting point where the pilots can see the display and manipulate the device with one hand. 

I would argue that if the pilots have to enter the performance data the EFB produces into the aircraft FMS, that’s not too onerous a task, and the pilot involvement is a potential net benefit. We have reached a point where the pilots are becoming (to coin a word) dis-involved, and have become disengaged as a result.

The previous blog entry, and others before it, deal with where that has been leading.