From Airbus and Boeing downwards, few would disagree that electronic flight bags (EFB) present an outstanding opportunity to help pilots access and manage cockpit-data and ultimately lead to the paperless cockpit.
Airlines, however, are not exactly beating down the doors of EFB vendors, and the reason is simple: cost. "EFBs are going in extraordinarily slowly," says Rockwell Collins senior director, marketing and customer programmes, Lynn Borek. The company is tackling the issue by working closely with potential customers to identify EFB applications that promise savings.
Teledyne Controls, which considers itself a leader in the EFB field with equipment at 15 operators, believes the market is poised for growth, but only at the right price. "There was a lot of interest before 9/11," says senior director of commercial programmes, Dennis Schmitz. "Interest has picked up to at or above the 9/11 level, but an EFB is still seen as a business system that has to pay its way on to the aircraft."
Both Collins and Teledyne emphasise the importance of staying flexible and offering whatever hardware and software - even other vendors' - meets each airline's needs. "Our competitors are out demonstrating hardware and being unsuccessful in moving the market," says Borek, "We are trying hard to stay flexible. There is no one right answer that is scalable across a mixed fleet."
Schmitz says: "Whether it's our own or other hardware or software, what matters is the operational need." Most of Teledyne's customers use Class 1 EFBs for performance calculation, he says.
But for the Boeing/Jeppesen Class 3 EFB in the 777, selected by six airlines, a principal application is taxi position awareness - displaying own-ship position on an airport moving map - which requires dual-redundant systems running certificated software.
Teledyne wants to stay away from certificated software to avoid the "six-digit" cost of the aircraft manufacturers' EFBs, and to let customers add applications quickly and easily. "A self-centring taxi map should be enough to provide situational awareness, without the own-ship blip," says Schmitz. "It comes down to cost and flexibility."
Identifying an application that can pay the EFB's way on to the aircraft is the key. "We do a provisional architecture, from turning the aircraft, all the way to the airline back office, and define the top five processes that bring benefit by putting an electronic capability in place," says Borek. "Then we run the model with the operator and validate the benefit with their financial guys."
With six such front-end sales exercises completed and another six planned within the next couple of months, the technique "seems to be having its effect", says Borek, who expects to land the company's first retrofit business shortly.
Fuel management and reconciliation is one application that could pay its way - the fuel vendor linking wirelessly into the aircraft system and the pilots entering fuel upload and chit number into the electronic checklist. "A seamless audit trail for fuel consumption is enough benefit to get an EFB on board," says Borek. "Often bills get lost and millions of dollars need to be reconciled."
A 100% paperless cockpit is another application that might bring enough benefit, says Borek. "A lot of paper flows through the cockpit by "sneaker net" - a lotof people with paper in their hands. If you can reduce the number of people, and reduce the propensity for error, you can save lot of money."
Interested airlines fall into two categories, says Borek: low-cost carriers struggling with scaling up their operations; and technology leaders among major airlines "looking for the next fundamental change in how to do business".
GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC
Source: Flight International