WATS 2011: iPad, the Game Changer

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The iPad is expected to speed implementation of electronic flight bag (EFB) technology across aviation markets, Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen predicted in an interview prior to the World Aviation Training Conference and Tradeshow in Orlando.

"The iPad is a real game-changer for charting and documentation tools," says Jeppesen senior manager-business development Scott Powell, who forecasts significant growth in tablet devices this year. Its affordability ($499 base list price for the iPad2), portability and high connectivity with Wi-Fi and 3G is "a powerful combination," says Powell. "It puts all the current information in pilots' hands wherever they are so they can walk onto the flight deck with updated knowledge."

The rush for iPad EFB solutions started in February this year, when the FAA authorised Executive Jet Management to use the Jeppesen Mobile TC (Terminal Chart) Application for iPad as an alternative to paper. The app initially was designed for use in general aviation markets, but since Executive Jet's approval, Jeppesen is seeing growing interest from all market segments - commercial, military and GA-- in deploying iPad EFB solutions. As of mid-March, Jeppesen had tallied 50,000 downloads of the TC App.

The FAA says the iPad is good to use as an EFB and does not require a new approval process. If a device meets the requirements for one of three classes of EFBs set forth in FAA' main guidance Advisory Circular 190-76A, an operator may formally apply for authorisation to use EFBs for specific functions.

The FAA classifies the iPad as "just another" Class 1 EFB device, meaning it is usually a portable consumer off the shelf technology (COTS) such as a laptop that operates independently of the aircraft.

A Class 2 EFB is basically the "middle-ground sweet spot," notes Jeppesen's Powell. It is generally portable COTS-type equipment but is mounted in the aircraft to connect with certain aircraft systems and avionics buses for GPS [procedures]. (Supplemental type certification is required for the mounting, not the equipment.)

Demand for Class 3 EFB, which offers the benefit of additional connectivity, continues. Imbedded in the flight deck, it can host a lot more functionality, such as support for NextGen procedures, notes Powell.

When it comes to EFBs, "One size does not fit all," stresses the FAA. The aircraft types, choice of equipment, and desired functions are different.

"No two operators are alike," agrees Jeppesen Aviation chief strategist Rick Ellerbrock. "Some operators wish to use them to perform calculations that optimise their takeoff or engine performance, others want to better utilise weather information. "There is no killer app."

What's next? Jeppesen expects more expanded functions will become available for portable devices. This could include dissemination of real-time information, such as ATC digitally transmitting rerouting instructions to the flight deck, where it would appear on the EFB.

This summer, Jeppesen, similar to what it did with the Mobile TC App, expects to release an en route charting application. In addition, the Airport Moving Map function will be added to the platform this year.