The EFB Solution

Technology onboard aircraft has steadily advanced during the past several years to the point where virtually every major component of the aircraft can be monitored electronically. Yet paper continues to be utilized inside the cockpit in the form of checklists, flight plans, aircraft operations manuals, navigation charts and airport approach procedures — all part of the pilot’s traditional carry-on flight bag.

Technology is now expanding into the cockpit through the electronic flight bag (EFB), which replaces the pilot’s physical flight bag with a laptop, tablet or a device that is affixed or built into the aircraft’s onboard avionics system. From simple solutions, such as soft copies of required manuals, to more complex tools, including real-time weather, electronic approach plates and airfield diagrams, the capabilities of the EFB continue to grow daily.

As a leading provider of operational control solutions for airlines, Sabre Airline Solutions® has been closely watching the development of EFB solutions since the 1990s when the technology first entered the lexicon of discussions with airline operators. At that point, flight operations departments were the primary driving force pursuing EFBs in an effort to ease the distribution burden of the volumes of paper required for flight crews to conduct flights.

Late in the decade when airlines were experiencing substantial growth and showing significant profits, some early adopters implemented EFB systems on laptops and some Class 2 devices, primarily to assist with performance calculations and weight and balance. The vast majority of carriers decided to take a “wait-and-see” approach as full Class 2 systems were cost prohibitive and the associated software technology was just starting to mature.

The “wait and see” approach continued into 2001, with the events surrounding Sept. 11 stifling any non-essential spending as airlines struggled to survive in the new operating paradigm thrust upon them. Creating a business case for EFB during this time became next to impossible for flight operations departments, and the expansion of EFB programs came to a virtual standstill.

Although some carriers ultimately failed, most persevered through the crisis, and interest among airlines about EFBs and the associated benefits revived.

Many airlines managed to successfully reduce unnecessary expenditures, but they were still unable to generate a profit. They began to search for ways to drive additional revenue, including assessing ancillary fees for a wide variety of products and services such as checked baggage, meals, pillows, blankets and premium seats. Airlines also became aggressive in leveraging technology and analyzing the wealth of data produced by various departments in an effort to further reduce costs.

A large area of focus has been flight operations, specifically what can be done to further streamline the information required to operate a flight and what data can be derived from the aircraft before, during and after the flight. The savviest airline IT departments now realize an aircraft should be treated like any other computer, tablet or mobile device connected to the corporate network. Basically, an aircraft is another IP address that runs applications and can both consume and provide data.

An EFB that can collect information from the data bus on an aircraft can immediately communicate to a ground server a great deal of information including actual versus planned fuel, actual versus planned times at the points along the route, crew reports, etc., when the aircraft is connected to the corporate network. Yet with all the benefits possible, the price of an EFB program was still relatively expensive for most carriers and required a creative business justification to gain approval from airline management … until recently.

EFB Solution Enhances Customer Experience

In addition to reducing cabin crew paperwork, applications to provide additional passenger data are on the horizon. Providing cabin crew with access to this level of detailed passenger information (acquired from reservations and check-in systems) will help airlines enhance the overall customer experience.

The game changer in the EFB arena came with the introduction of the Apple iPad in 2010, which immediately caught the attention of flight crewmembers as well as airline IT departments. They now had a cost-effective option for equipping flight crews with a device that could radically reduce the amount of paper required for manuals and charts, while helping ensure the most current information was available to flight operations. Of course, the iPad’s popularity with both personal and business sectors helped build the case for tablets onboard the aircraft. With a significant push from flight crews, the adoption of EFB technology started to gain traction.

For its part, Sabre Airline Solutions entered into the EFB arena in 2009, serving as general contractor for an EFB solution planned for one of its airline partner’s international operations. In addition to organizing the procurement of the necessary hardware and software, the IT solutions provider created the roadmap for the airline to transition from a paper-based operation to one driven by data collected on the EFB.

During the initial planning stage of the project, it became apparent there was a need in the airline industry for a knowledgeable consultant to oversee the EFB transition process for carriers. While each vendor associated with the project — hardware providers, software companies and chart developers — was happy to supply its piece of the puzzle, no one wanted responsibility for the entire project.

Admittedly, implementing a complete EFB solution into a carrier is complicated, since flight operations touch virtually every department in an airline. Statistically, the failure rate of EFB programs exceeds the successful implementations primarily due to the inability of the group initiating the project to accurately determine its true magnitude. Yet, the introduction of EFB programs is expanding rapidly throughout the industry, and over time they will be commonplace at virtually all sizes and types of airlines. Therefore, choosing the optimal EFB program for its unique operational situation is key to a carrier’s success.

Electronic Flight Bag

Little Rock Air Force Base is shaping the future of aviation by testing a new electronic flight bag.

Based on its extensive knowledge of the aviation industry and experience with the EFB implementation process, Sabre Airline Solutions began offering Sabre® AirCentre eFlight Manager consulting services to assist airlines in creating business justification for the program. Sabre Airlines Solutions fully understands the core requirements as well as the features and functions airlines are looking for in a complete EFB system. Therefore, the solutions provider is also introducing a complete EFB solution, including software, in concert with its consulting services.

After extensive evaluation, the EFB application from BYTRON in the United Kingdom was recently purchased to be the software component of eFlight Manager. The application will be integrated into the Sabre® AirCentre Enterprise Operations suite this year and connected with the company’s other operational control solutions. In addition, the EFB solution’s quality will be assessed to ensure it meets data center deployment requirements.

With the addition of the software component, eFlight Manager provides a comprehensive and extensible EFB solution that helps airlines realize the promise of the “connected aircraft” by effectively linking and consolidating data-rich aircraft information directly to carriers’ IT networks and core ground systems. By doing so, airlines are able to automate and streamline communication processes, flight operations and documentation.

The eFlight Manager software is modular, enabling airlines to address their immediate priorities, such as documentation or electronic tech log, and can expand over time as their requirements grow, without the need for complex software integration projects. The software’s extensive capabilities include:

  • Collection and storage of flight-specific data, such as crew stats, fuel and oil uplift, and deicing, in a central data repository. This data is transferred from the EFB as information is entered before a trip, collected during a flight and downloaded when the aircraft arrives at its destination.
  • Synchronization of company manuals and notices stored on the EFB with the required, most up-to-date, trip-specific information on an airline’s ground server.
  • Performance of weight and balance calculations while connected to a ground server, enabling crewmembers to access the most current condition information available. If connectivity is not available, calculations can be done directly on the EFB device.
  • Maintenance and defects reporting via a tech log, allowing the entry of defect information and providing an opportunity for maintenance to make the appropriate deferral without physically signing the aircraft log book.
  • Collection of en-route data for a flight through an interactive flight log that automatically connects to the bus or via manual entry by the crew, which is useful for segment comparative analysis of planned versus actual time, fuel and other operational details.

Applications designed to reduce cabin crew paperwork and provide further passenger data are in the planning stages. In addition to documents and notices, detailed information about individual passengers, currently inaccessible to crewmembers, will be available from reservations and check-in systems and delivered to crews before flights depart. The objective is to enable carriers to improve the overall customer experience.

For example, an airline will be able to identify for any given flight that the passenger in seat 14D did not receive an upgrade for the trip, even though he/she is top-tier status in the loyalty program. Or, for instance, the customer in 12E is on the flight because his/her other flight was cancelled. Furthermore, the lady traveling in 10A has a checked bag that will not be on the carousel when she arrives at her destination due to a tight connection. This information will allow the cabin crew to be more proactive in providing added assistance to those passengers in specific situations or facing unforeseen challenges.

In addition, broadband Internet connectivity in flight is starting to gain some traction in the United States and global connectivity is on the horizon, providing airlines and crewmembers with the essentially boundless potential of EFB solutions. The impact will be game changing, similar to the first time an employee’s computer was connected to the corporate network and then to the outside world.

Cockpit crews will now have access to the most up-to-date weather information, unlike in today’s world in which passengers onboard aircraft can watch the Weather Channel on the cabin’s satellite TV and possibly receive information quicker than the crewmembers operating the flight.

Despite the potential benefits and capabilities the implementation of EFB software can provide a carrier, acquiring software alone is not enough. Solutions consulting and program management are equally critical to a successful EFB program. Sabre Airline Solutions incorporates all three elements to assist airlines in receiving optimum value from their EFB investment.

There are many examples of failed projects due to lack of planning, knowledge and experience. Partnering with Sabre Airline Solutions provides carriers with access to best business practices, industry-leading software and experience gained from successful EFB implementations.

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