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Aircraft IT Operations - February/March 2013

Author: Niall O'Sullivan
This article appears in Issue 8: the February/March 2013 edition of the Aircraft IT Operations eJournal. For your own free subscription to the eJournal - click on 'SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE' for full details.

iPad EFB: Managing a Digital Future

With pilots getting over 45,000 iPads, Niall O’Sullivan, CEO at Arconics explains why the iPad business case works

The mobile device revolution is moving at a pace and 2013 will see the phenomenon spread like wildfire throughout the aviation community. From the outset pilots the world over have embraced this new technology due to its ease of use and portability. During 2012 American Airlines were the first airline to get FAA approval for iPad use in all phases of flight. This significant event has opened the gates for other airlines to unleash the power of iPad based EFB solutions.

Pilots and their iPad devices are here to stay but many airlines are struggling to manage and control these devices. Today a majority of pilots use iPads in an unofficial capacity downloading manuals and documents from the company intranet and loading to their personal iPads. However, these are uncontrolled copies with no guarantee that it is the latest version being used. Some airlines have taken to banning pilots from using iPads while on duty and forced them to use the paper based information supplied by the airline. Progressive airlines, on the other hand, are meeting the challenge head on. They have embraced the change and provided solutions where the pilot can synchronise airline documents which are securely tracked to ensure that each pilot has the latest version. And it’s not just one-way traffic, delivering data to pilots; items such as captain’s report and the safety/incident report are submitted by the pilot via his or her iPad, making communication faster and contributing to overall airline safety.

The following table shows airline who have purchased iPads

Airline

Number of iPad purchased

United Airlines

11,000

American Airlines

10,000

Air France

4,100

Alaska Airlines

1,400

EVA

1,000

US Air Force

18,000


The following are examples of airlines that have embraced iPad technology:

United Airlines (video link)

http://www.apple.com/ipad/business/profiles/united-airlines/

Eliminating paper translates into serious savings, says Captain Joe Burns, Managing Director of Technology and Flight Test and another 20-year United veteran. “With iPad we’re able to save 16 million sheets of paper a year. Just removing the weight of that paper works out to 326,000 gallons of fuel saved per year.” That’s near USD 1 Million per year.

EVA Airways

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUod_HtsbtA

Instead of spending extra time gathering information before their flights, pilots can proceed directly to work, streamlining their workdays and reducing costs for the airline. “Now pilots can fire up their iPads from home and see all the information the company provides,” says Liang.

Alaska Airlines (video link)

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/news/2011-06-08-ipad-apple-manuals-airline_n.htm

Alaska Airlines was the first commercial airline to switch from paper to iPad. Alaska made the transition to company-issued iPads for all 1,400-plus of its pilots. Having all the information in the iPad makes it more efficient and safer because everything is in one place.

American Airlines
http://aa.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=3575

American Airlines got approval to use iPad in all phases of flight. The main benefit derived from using Apple’s tablets was to replaces 45 pounds worth of paper for each pilot on a plane. They calculate savings of fuel usage amounting to 500,000 gallons each year.

US Air Force
US Air Force places $9 million order for 18,000 iPads

Captain Kathleen Ferrero, a military spokesperson said that the new digital flight bags would “help crews operate more effectively and safely, and support the Pentagon’s efficiency goals.”

EFB Business Case

Until now building EFB business cases has been difficult to justify from a financial point of view. The solutions were very expensive but now the available solutions are maturing with many successful projects culminating in airlines rapidly removing paper based processes and replacing them with more efficient digital based ones. The new solutions are now more affordable with high quality off-the-shelf (OTS) hardware, apps and cloud based software solutions making solution deployment faster. An iPad based EFB business case today needs only to justify saving above $10-$15 per pilot per month. The project risk has reduced dramatically and Cloud based services do not require the capital intensive purchase upfront. These systems are typically charged on a monthly basis and can be discontinued if the value is not being delivered, so project risk is reduced.


The reason the business case works are:

  • Relatively cheap devices compared to custom EFB hardware;
  • Low cost low risk solution compared to legacy EFB solutions;
  • Wide range of quality aviation apps available for download;
  • Quick to get up and going and a solution that evolves over time;
  • Cloud based iPad management/ synchronisations solutions are now turnkey;
  • Solution reduces workload for internal IT department;
  • iPads are now ubiquitous in the pilot community;
  • The iPad is light, portable and easy to use.

Savings are typically found in:

  • Reduced document distribution cost;
  • More efficient reporting and archiving;
  • Improved crew communication;
  • Increased safety standards;
  • Reduced duty time;
  • Removal of out-station briefing rooms;
  • Fuel savings due to weight reduction;
  • Simple manual revision process - reduces time to revise manuals.

Flight Operation going digital

Today, many Flight Operations departments primarily run on paper-based processes, typically consisting of Flight packs, charts, crew forms, notices and manuals. It is essential that every pilot has access to a large set of manuals and documents both on and off the aircraft. Whether the pilot is referencing a manual to check if the aircraft can be dispatched with a current defect or checking the company procedures for specific flying conditions, access to this information is critical and therefore it must be up to date and accurate. Aircraft manufacturers such as Airbus and Boeing have recently switched to XML format documents and will soon stop supplying paper. This combined with the proliferation of iPad devices has spurred Flight Operations managers to move toward fully digital libraries on the flight deck. Many airlines struggle with this transition as the processes are significantly different to the traditional paper world.

Pilots I meet do not want to be confined to receiving information updates at a single briefing terminal or an EFB installed on the aircraft. They want access to critical flight information well in advance of the flight and now they have the devices they need to receive this data – smart phones and tablets.

The following is the ideal scenario for a pilot’s daily information workflow:

  • First thing in the morning is to check his or her sectors for the day which information contains a brief overview of the briefing pack and weather… typically done on a mobile phone.
  • Then, compulsory notices can be read and confirmed.
  • On the bus to the Airport the detailed flight briefing pack can be read on the iPad in detail and any change will be clearly visible.
  • When arriving at the briefing station the pre-flight planning is completed quickly and efficiently.
  • On the way to the aircraft the information can be reviewed and any last minute changes can be clearly communicated from flight operations.
  • When on the aircraft the same information is available on the installed EFB.
  • During flight, pilots can access the information during all phases of flight with fast reliable search functionality allowing access to the information they require.
  • Also during the flight, the pilot will enter various items of information on digital forms which is then synchronised back to the central ground system for processing and archiving.
  • These forms can be saved for completion later; for example, an incident report could be part completed on the installed EFB and later finalised when the pilot is at the hotel where s/he completes and submits to the Airlines.

This new information workflow makes for a safer environment and allows the pilot to make well considered decisions without any time pressures. Pilots can only make decisions based on the quality of the information they have received. On a daily basis we get asked similar questions by airline flight operation managers. These are the typical challenges:

  • How do we deliver these documents in different formats to the pilot?
  • How do I manage Airbus and Boeing XML manuals?
  • I have a mixed fleet but pilots want one consistent user experience.
  • Is there a single EFB document viewer that will display Airbus, Boeing and other manufacturer manuals?
  • How do I synchronise and track data to each device. Is it reliable for daily operation?
  • How can we ensure each pilot has read the manual/ notice updates?
  • How can the pilot search across documents that are in different formats?
  • How can I track compliance entries across all documents in the library?
  • How do I easily update the XML manuals and is there a web based approval process?
  • Are consumer devices suitable for aviation operational safety standards? 
  • Class 3 EFB technology looks old and is not keeping pace with consumer devices.
  • What software platform should we use – our IT department has only Windows experience and no iOS experience?
  • Should I permanently mount the device on every aircraft or should we just issue an iPad to each pilot?

Yes, the issue of EFB document management is a complex one with no one-solution-fits-all but there are common guiding principles to chart the way forward. Here are a few of my tips that resolve most of the issues outlined above.

2. iPad device management is the key component

The core of a successful iPad EFB solution is the ground based iPad device management system. It easy to buy iPad devices and download a few leading iPad apps but for a successful solution it is necessary to control the information flows on a daily basis, this is where these solutions live and die.

The key functions in iPad device management are as follows:

  • Synchronise data to each iPad;
  • Deliver personalised data based on each pilot’s profile;
  • Upload new data;
  • Provide application interfaces to send and receive data to and from third party systems;
  • Track each device for compliance with latest data revision;
  • Ensure data security during data transfer;
  • Manage the communication methods such as Wi-Fi and 3G/4G;
  • Manage the registration of new devices and the removal of devices from service.

1. Focus on making the information available everywhere.

Publish once: access everywhere. As I mentioned above, pilots will access information from different devices at different times. So having the data in the right format is essential to creating a flexible solution. New devices will come and go but the information will keep flowing.

2. Leverage the power of XML

Your first question might be, what is XML? XML is a markup language. XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language. It is a language used by computers to transmit data and is particularly useful for communication between different types of information systems that would normally not be compatible with each other. Documents created in XML are highly structured and ‘intelligent’; whereas, document formats such as Word and PDF were designed for paper viewing.

The core of our philosophy is to publish once in XML format and access everywhere whether that is on a mobile phone, tablet or installed EFB. This is the power of XML; making information available to the pilot via multiple devices: the right information to the right person at the right time.

Mobile device are the current wave of new technology; airlines must embrace these technologies to stay competitive, help deliver a better service to passengers and increase safety. Pilots are only as good as the information they are given; so providing two-way real-time information flows to pilots is critical to successful management of flight operations.

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