Boeing's aeronautical data specialist Jeppesen is developing capabilities to provide real-time in-flight content delivery to electronic flight bags based on the Apple iPad hand-held tablet.
The company, which has carried out tests on the new lightweight iPad 2 device, is expecting a new era of EFB development to emerge from the tablets.
Rick Ellerbrock, Jeppesen chief strategist, aviation, says that weather maps are the data source "that always comes up" when speaking with customers.
"We'll have en route charting capabilities realised on the iPad within three months and with that we'll have weather and the ability to overlap weather with routes," he says. "It will be supported in-flight."
Before real-time EFB applications can be deployed, however, the connected devices need to be tested to ensure non-interference with avionics systems. "We're optimistic in that area," says Ellerbrock.
Three years ago the Federal Aviation Administration released guidelines for checking interference and rapid decompression among other testing required for EFB authorisation in the cockpit.
"That is the process we followed with [NetJets subsidiary] Executive Jet Management and that is the process that every other operator in the jurisdiction will follow," says Ellerbrock.
Executive Jet Management recently received FAA approval to use an iPad app from Jeppesen as an alternative to paper aeronautical maps, setting the stage for this EFB solution to be rolled out by business and commercial aircraft operators alike.
NetJets has been equipping its fleet of mid-size and large-cabin aircraft with Aircell's Gogo in-flight high-speed internet system.
Jeppesen has performed a rapid-decompression test of the iPad 2 at 51,000ft (15,550m), which confirmed the integrity of the device, and says it illustrates the tablet's suitability to the cockpit environment.
"We're also getting a lot of field reports that this thing is tough under pressure," adds Ellerbrock. "It is designed very well. The screen is tempered and extremely tough. The components internally are all solid state so you don't have rotating parts and it does seem to be constructed well."
He also highlights the compact size of the tablet and describes its advent as a "sea change" in terms of its adaptability and performance within the cockpit.
"We're not seeing many limits on this device right now," he adds. "It's fast. It's got a very powerful processor. The graphics are outstanding. The display is crisp and clear and readable in all kinds of lighting conditions. It has an incredible field of view, which means if you look at it from an angle, you see a very clear image on the screen."
The Mobile TC iPad app turns the tablet into a Class 1 kneeboard EFB, but Ellerbrock says: "This will become a Class 2 mounted [EFB] solution. It's starting to happen. Jeppesen doesn't build mounting solutions but there are a number of companies that recognise the opportunity and that's what is good about this.
"Like any other EFB, a mount has to go through regulatory review, typically through a STC (supplemental type certificate) process. The fact that this [iPad 2] is a small form factor and lightweight, makes mounting easier. We'll see it this year [as a Class II solution] for sure."
A number of carriers, including reportedly Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines, are studying iPads as EFB solutions.
"Generally our customers are interested in in-flight connectivity," notes Ellerbrock.