Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) Users Forum Helps Drive Widespread Industry Adoption

Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) Users Forum Helps Drive Widespread Industry Adoption

When the first Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) Users Forum kicked off in Atlanta in April 2010, most major airlines had no EFB program.  Pilots still carried flight bags filled with paper charts, approach plates, and manuals.  Those first presenters set a high bar for providing current, relevant, and actionable information about this new technology, which the organization still strives for at every event.  As the EFB Users Forum prepares for its 17th conference, it has become the world's largest dedicated to the subject, regularly attracting more than 300 participants from around the globe.

Originally launched by the Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) of ARINC Industry Activities℠ the conference partnered with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) beginning with the second conference.  Since then, AEEC and IATA have continued to work together to widen its exposure, deepen its expertise, and extend its reach with airlines around the world.

The EFB Users Forum encourages participation in projects led by industry experts who attend and report at this conference.  One example is own-ship position indication in-flight on EFB, which has long been prohibited.  Jeppesen took the leadership role, and with the support of meeting participants in research, presentations, and meetings with the FAA, advocated a change in policy.  Due to these efforts, the newly issued AC 120-76D incorporated this change in 2017. EASA and other regulators around the world have taken notice and are now considering similar changes in their guidance as well.  The change has been enthusiastically embraced by pilots and offers a tremendous increase in situational awareness and safety.  Literally millions of flights have been completed utilizing this new capability. 

Perhaps equally important, the FAA now sees the EFB as a quicker path to introducing new capabilities to the flight deck.  In fact, the FAA was so impressed with the results of the own-ship effort, that they have asked for more proposals to evaluate.  The November 2018 EFB Users Forum in London will highlight new initiatives that will bring additional benefits to pilots and their airlines.

Even a few short years ago, the paperless cockpit was an unrealized dream for aviators.  Early laptops and stylus operated portable computers formed the basis of initial efforts to digitize, eliminate paper, reduce weight, and simplify update procedures.  Then came custom-built installed EFB systems. But neither of these pioneering efforts provided airlines the ability to economically deploy EFBs.

The development of modern tablet computers changed everything.  The iPad® and later Surface®, offered many advantages never seen before, and could be compared to the introduction of personal computers to replace typewriters.  Executive Jet Management was the first Part 135 certified operator FAA authorized to deploy an iPad EFB in February 2011.  In December of that same year, American Airlines became the first Part 121 airline operator to gain FAA authorization for iPad EFBs.  In Europe, Austrian, Brussels, and Lufthansa were the first airlines to adopt the Surface Pro 3 as portable EFBs. Within four years, EFB programs based on Apple iPad and Microsoft Surface accounted for over 80% of all FAA EFB authorizations granted to date.

The speed and widespread adoption of EFB using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) devices has been breathtaking, as is the volume of data which is digitized today.  Jeppesen's Rick Ellerbrock notes that over 150,000 professional pilots worldwide use Jeppesen FliteDeck Pro, which has enabled millions of airline flights without paper charts.  Jeppesen delivers over 30 Terabytes of data monthly to over 30,000 tablet EFBs, equivalent to more than 83,000 hours (almost 10 years) of 480p streaming video.

There has also been tremendous expansion in mobile apps and variety of users.  Kerry Frank reports that Comply365 supports 525,000 regular users and 300,000 mobile devices.  Interestingly, more than 90% of their clients use mobile apps throughout the enterprise and across multiple departments.  Users are moving beyond the simple PDF toward rich data and multiple file types – including pictures and video – ushering in the next wave of digital transformation.

"As adoption of aircraft connectivity continues to grow, so do the use cases and applications" states Bill Baumgarten of UTC Aerospace Systems.  "Once customers are exposed to the amount of data an Aircraft Interface Device (AID) can acquire, they quickly find use cases that go beyond typical applications like own-ship and real-time weather.  One novel use case is flight profile optimization based on aircraft performance, weather, and current airspace environment including traffic.  In another use case, operators are reducing cancellations and delays by leveraging aircraft data to predict when the aircraft will require maintenance and taking action ahead of a failure.  This is a significant shift to a proactive maintenance approach versus a traditional on condition maintenance solution."

Peter Grau, Lead Principal Engineer, ARINC IA
Philipp Haller, Co-Chairman, Austrian
John Synnott, Program Manager, IATA 
Will Ware, Co-Chairman, Southwest Airlines