The Apple iPad tablet computer's rapid penetration into the aviation industry is in evidence at the show, with the touch-screen device proving particularly popular in aircraft cockpits.

"The iPad is a real game-changer for charting and documentation tools," says Jeppesen senior manager for business development Scott Powell, who predicts significant growth in tablet devices this year. Its affordability ($499 list price for the iPad 2 basic model), 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 electronic flight bag solutions started in February this year when the Federal Aviation Administration authorised Executive Jet Management to use the Jeppesen Mobile TC (Terminal Chart) application for iPad as an alternative to paper. The app was initially designed for use in general aviation markets, but since the Executive Jet approval, Jeppesen is seeing growing interest from all market segments - commercial, military and general aviation - in deploying iPad EFB solutions. As of mid-March, Jeppesen was reporting 50,000 downloads of the TC app.

Jeppesen iPad EFB
 © Jeppesen

"Usually the red message light was never on when I came back from lunch. Now I have to keep a spare bulb handy," says an FAA official about the hundreds of inquiries the agency is fielding. Is the iPad good to use as an EFB? Does the device require a new approvals process? The answer is "no" on both counts.

According to the FAA, 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. On 13 May, the FAA issued an InFO [Information for Operators] Bulletin 11011 that provides guidance for operators interested in gaining FAA authorisation of tablet computing devices for EFB use.

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

A Class 2 EFB is basically the "middle-ground sweet spot," says 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 continues for Class 3 EFBs, which offer the benefit of additional connectivity. Embedded in the flight deck, they can host a lot more functionality, such as support for NextGen procedures, notes Powell. However, the trend here is that industry generally believes the lowering of certification costs would see an increase in Class 3 EFB adoption rates, he says.

Under an FAA Capstone 3 programme contract, US Airways equipped 20 Airbus A319s with Goodrich Class 3 EFBs. The airline is gathering data to help the FAA determine if airport moving map technology improves pilot situational awareness at airports with a risk of runway incursion. Mitre is now relaying preliminary pilot feedback to Volpe for analysis, says an FAA official. However, meaningful data will not be available for six months to a year.

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

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

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

This summer Jeppesen, in a similar way to what it did with the Mobile TC App, expects to release en-route charting application. In addition, AMM will be added to the platform this year.

Meanwhile, as of mid-March the FAA was planning to release the updated version of its AC 190-76A, first issued in March 2003, for public commentary. The Principal Operations Inspector Handbook is also being revised. The inspector's focus will be on the operator's intended function and the training the airline is going to provide - not on evaluating EFB hardware and software, which the FAA says is "impossible".

The FAA does not offer specific guidance for EFB system security. EFB manufacturers and operators determine security implementations on a case-by-case basis. However, the FAA notes that a working group at standards body the RTCA is developing security guidance for aeronautical systems and communications, including EFB systems.

Source: Flight Daily News