EFB Evolution

Transforming The Paperless Cockpit Into The Connected Aircraft

A new, integrated, end-to-end electronic flight bag (EFB) solution enables airlines and their cockpit crew to leverage EFBs without the need for multiple, disparate software that works in isolation. The solution automatically presents all required data and resources to cockpit crewmembers for a successful take off and flight completion, all from a single interface.

During the past decade, innovative advancements in aviation tools for the aircraft cockpit have been numerous. The electronic flight bag is one such technological advancement, promising to transform the cockpit into a digitally connected hub of information. However, the original intended use for EFB was definitely not as glamorous as today’s vision.

When initially conceptualized, the EFB was positioned as a replacement solution for the pilot‘s heavy flight bag, always filled to the brim with manuals, charts and flight logs. Its objective was to bring about the “paperless cockpit.” With technology advancing at such a rapid pace in a world growing more interconnected every day, it is only natural that the proposed use for EFB should progress as well.

The device that airlines thought would lighten the pilot’s load has evolved into much more than merely a display unit for soft copies of content. EFB has the power to drive more-efficient flight operations through the interconnection and sharing of data.

Today, the EFB is tasked with delivering increasingly complex capabilities such as real-time weather, maintenance reporting, weight calculations and the operational flight plan, all of which are essential for flight operation. Now, this opportunity is expanding beyond these essential elements to deliver tools that drive improvements across a broader range of flight operations for the crew, passengers and, most importantly, the corporate bottom line.

New, Integrated EFB Solution

Airlines and their cockpit crewmembers now have access to an innovative, integrated, comprehensive electronic flight bag solution that doesn’t require multiple, disparate software that works in isolation. The solution automatically delivers all required data and resources to cockpit crews for a successful take off and flight completion.

The new vision for EFB is to transform the “paperless cockpit” into a “connected aircraft,” one that encompasses a wider scope including crew schedule management, passenger administration, connection to airport ground services and interactive flight planning, all from the confines of the cockpit during flight.

Each aircraft within an airline‘s fleet is a unique, data-rich pool of information that can prove instrumental in the development of more-efficient flight and business operations. Unfortunately, the majority of this potentially valuable data is currently untapped.

The market opportunity for broader applications of EFB is so appealing that numerous solutions providers have thrown their expertise and resources into developing specialized tools for use on EFB devices. Airlines mirrored this excitement and began purchasing as many EFB components as they could afford. A prime example is the mass acquisition of thousands of Apple iPads by some airlines, which then struggled to find compatible software to load onto the device.

More recently, a roadblock has emerged that most within the industry did not foresee. All of these unique components built by different providers fail to communicate essential information among one another, such as the operational flight plan for a particular flight, the crew operating the flight and the deferred maintenance items for the aircraft. The lack of interconnectivity between EFB components is a strong reminder that the implementation of a complete EFB solution has yet to be fully realized.

“The embrace and deployment of Class 2 EFB technology in the commercial aviation market has increased exponentially with the introduction of tablet devices,” said Ken Crowhurst, Americas director of sales for navAero, an innovative organization focused on developing and commercializing hardware technology solutions for business and commercial aviation. “Today, we’re seeing a significant number of airlines that are trying to implement programs consisting of multiple vendor contracts for non-integrated, specialized solutions. This creates significant complexities and challenges in trying to make all the pieces work together as a harmonious and integrated solution. As such, it’s not surprising that the marketplace is moving toward an aggregated and comprehensive single-vendor solution. By doing so, operators are able to realize significant reductions in the time and effort required to bring a truly integrated program to fruition.”

Standing alone, these different components provide extremely useful functionality for specific portions of flight operations, but they are often nothing more than individual pieces of a much larger puzzle. Airlines have quickly realized that not all EFB providers own or can deliver an entire solution, resulting in complex, often costly and, sometimes, impossible integration attempts to arrive at a desired state.

So how can EFB live up to its full potential and deliver fully interactive, integrated flight operations from the aircraft cockpit?

Airlines have invested millions of dollars in EFB components, only to struggle with how to make the disparate pieces work together. The EFB solution marketplace has become so fragmented that decision makers are losing sight of which solutions support their airline’s vision and which do not.

Imagine, as an airline executive, you are shown a software solution that compares updated fuel burn versus projected burn during flight. Another provider specializes in converting hard-copy manuals to digital versions for use on EFB devices, and others offer individual products for real-time weather feeds, flight-log information, route maps and more. However effective these individual products may be, most do not integrate out-of-the-box, driving down efficiency in flight operations and often increasing both complexity and projected costs.

Consider the following common scenario for an EFB comprising multiple independent applications.

A flight crew needs current manuals onboard the aircraft, and the airline has an application from a content management provider to view them. The application contains all of the airline’s flight manuals, and the crew has to manually search for those relevant to their flight. The flight operations team also wants to push operational notices to the crew and verify they have been read. To achieve this, a second application is required to run while the document viewer is minimized.

In addition to these two applications, another tool is required for the crew to read weather information, which necessitates further manual input to find the desired content. Once again, the other applications must be minimized while the weather information is viewed.

Finally, the crew needs access to weighted-balance and performance applications, for which they manually enter information to perform the required calculations prior to takeoff.

In this scenario, the flight crew has to juggle multiple independent applications and perform many manual selections and inputs to complete its tasks, which increases the risk of planning errors.

Now, consider the following alternative scenario utilizing an integrated EFB solution.

Single EFB Interface

Using a single, fully integrated EFB solution, crewmembers automatically receive weather data and charts for the actual course they are scheduled to fly along with all appropriate company notices and data vital for a safe, efficient flight.

The flight crew has a single EFB interface with integrated applications that share and populate the data between them. Information is extracted from the calculated flight plan, and the required data is pre-populated into the performance and weight-and-balance systems.

When the flight crew receives its briefing, crewmembers are automatically presented with weather data and charts based on the actual route they are scheduled to fly. They also have all of the appropriate company notices and can confirm when they have been viewed. A record of this exchange is then programmatically saved for company reference.

The documentation presented on the EFB device has been pre-filtered for the specific flight the crew is operating. In this scenario, the flight crew automatically receives via a single interface all the required data and resources necessary to take off and complete the flight. This simple example demonstrates how an integrated EFB solution not only streamlines flight planning and reduces operations complexity, but it also provides consistent shared content that significantly minimizes the risk of potentially hazardous errors.

To combat the problem of fragmentation within the EFB market, airlines are seeking a more integrated tool that aggregates the core parts and processes of an EFB into a single end-to-end solution. Focusing attention on an established, qualified vendor simplifies the buying process for airline executives, saving them valuable time and minimizing capital leakage through investment in disparate EFB components that were never designed to integrate.

Sabre Airline Solutions® has been participating in recent EFB market developments and has introduced an end-to-end EFB solution called Sabre® AirCentre eFlight Manager (eFlight Manager).

eFlight Manager helps airlines reduce costs and increase operational efficiency while delivering functionality beyond the traditional “paperless cockpit.” In addition to the software capabilities, Sabre Airline Solutions has established strategic partnerships with leading industry providers that specialize in cockpit hardware, EFB tablet device connectivity and other areas to fully complete the solution.

eFlight Manager is modular by design, giving airlines the ability to configure an EFB solution to meet their current needs with the capacity to add functionality as their requirements grow. A major part of the unique value offered by eFlight Manager is the close integration with other applications across the Sabre® AirCentre Enterprise Operations suite.

The initial release of eFlight Manager will be integrated with Sabre® AirCentre Flight Plan Manager, enabling airlines to receive operational flight plans and Sabre® AirCentre Flight Explorer, which provides graphical weather displays. Subsequent releases will further enhance the integration with the rest of the Sabre AirCentre suite and expand the functionality beyond the cockpit and into the cabin.

Through the current features of eFlight Manager a truly connected airline is becoming a reality.

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