Class 2 and 3 EFBs in pipeline as United-Continental rolls out iPads

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United-Continental is looking at ultimately implementing Class 2 and Class 3 electronic flight bags on its aircraft in addition to the portable, kneeboard Apple iPad-based Class I EFBs it is distributing to all 11,000 United and Continental pilots.

Speaking to Air Transport Intelligence and Flightglobal after United-Continental announced plans to convert to paperless cockpits, United managing director, technology and flight test, Captain Joseph Burns said: "Our initial implementation [for the iPads] will be as Class 1, non-mounted EFBs only for ground operations and above 10,000ft."

This will allow the carrier to replace paper flight manuals, and as "a first for major network carriers", provide pilots with paperless aeronautical navigational charts through an iPad app, according to United, which noted: "The iPads are loaded with Jeppesen Mobile FliteDeck, the industry's premier app featuring interactive, data-driven enroute navigation information and worldwide geo-referenced terminal charts."

Distribution of iPads began earlier this month, and all pilots will have them by year-end.

After the iPads have been deployed, the next step "will be Class 2 and Class 3 EFBs on our aircraft", revealed Captain Burns.

"We think the iPad would make a good Class 2 EFB. There are several companies with STCs [supplemental type certifications] out there for that sort of arrangement. If we did, we would have the iPad on the aircraft stay on the aircraft and have the pilots carry a back-up."

United-Continental also intends to look at connected iPad applications "a little down the line", said Captain Burns.

United's p.s. Boeing 757 fleet is currently fitted with Gogo's in-flight connectivity solution in the cabin. And more than 200 Continental aircraft are expected to be equipped with ViaSat/LiveTV's Ka-band satellite-supported connectivity solution next year.

"The first step is to get the paper flight manuals out [of the cockpit]. But yes, we are looking at it [connected iPads]. There will be certification hurdles involved and will likely be done on a Class 2 [mounted] device," said Captain Burns.

United-Continental is also eyeing Class 3 EFBs after installing the devices on some Boeing 747 aircraft. Such solutions support the USA's NextGen air traffic modernisation programme.

"We just finished up a Class 3 install on a series of 747s and [had] one of our first flights with NextGen technology," said Captain Burns. "That was a Goodrich EFB, Class 3, with Honeywell software and Honeywell transponders also. So far, everything we've done has worked flawlessly."

He doubts that the iPad could be transformed into a Class 3 device.