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Spring 2012

Author: Hank Putek Jr.
This article appears in Issue 5: the Spring 2012 edition of the Aircraft IT Operations eJournal. For your own free subscription to the eJournal - click on 'SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE' for full details.

American Airlines Case Study: iPad enabled, FAA approved

There are a number of reasons why, says Hank Putek Jr. B-777 Pilot with American Airlines and Allied Pilots Association Safety Committee, iPad based EFBs are heading the field 

Background

American Airlines made aviation history in December 2011 when the Federal Aviation Administration granted the carrier approval to use Apple iPads during ‘All Phases of Flight’; a first in the industry. The approval was initially for the 777 fleet, and American is currently seeking to expand their approval to use the iPad product on all other fleets as well.

Why iPads?

There are a couple of good reasons why the iPad has come on so strong in the commercial aviation world. The first is obvious – cost. The cost of entry into the EFB world with an iPad is rock bottom. It’s a consumer electronic device that does not require certification and that keeps the up-front costs low. Another reason airlines are choosing iPads is that the iPad iOS operating system architecture is closed, secure and easy for airline IT departments to lock down.

Furthermore, the iPad hardware itself is sealed - you cannot change the processor, the RAM, or the hard drive, so hardware configuration control is already done for you. This greatly assists the airline to meet the hardware configuration control requirement as required by the FAA and other regulators. The iPad is cheap, easy to configure and relatively secure, and that makes it a ‘no-brainer’ to implement as a Class I EFB, personal electronic device (PED).


Overall operational benefit

From the perspective of the airline pilot, using the Apple iPad on the flight deck (instead of paper), brings numerous improvements to both quality of work life, and operational safety. From the airline’s perspective, the use of iPads on the flight deck can result in significant cost savings by reducing uplifted weight (thereby reducing fuel burn), decreasing CO2 emissions, decreasing injuries on duty, headcount reduction or reassignment, and distribution expenses reduction.



On the flight deck, the use of iPads significantly increases a pilot’s situational awareness during ground taxi operations because the digital airport surface chart can be panned and zoomed to the aircraft’s exact location on the surface of the airport. This greatly reduces the opportunity for a runway or taxiway incursion/excursion event.

Additionally, since the terminal charts are backlit, they are much easier to read at night than a paper taxi or approach chart, which requires the use of an incandescent overhead light shone down onto the paper chart reflecting both the color temperature of the light source, and the whiteness of the paper into the pilots eye’s which adds to eye strain and fatigue during night operations.

Data accuracy

Accuracy of the terminal charting revision process is also an advantage for pilots using the iPad in the cockpit. As readers may already know, having to manually revise thousands of pages across the course of a year leaves untold room for error, lost charts, incorrect charts, etc. Using an iPad with a digital charting application completely removes this possibility since the updating process is automatic. The pilot activates the application and then presses one button – the chart database is updated immediately and completely.

More efficient Flight Ops

Currently, pilots carry flight kit bags with them on every trip. The weight of these kitbags varies between 37 pounds, and 56 pounds, and some flights have four pilots onboard, which means there is about 200 pounds of paper on international long haul flights. As the price of jet fuel has skyrocketed across the past five years, so has the cost to lift a pound of weight into the sky – the more expensive jet fuel is, the more valuable it is to the operator to reduce the uplifted weight as much as possible. American Airlines has well over 2,400 departures per day so once you start multiplying those numbers, the cost to carry a pound can be staggering.

Quality of work life

There also is a significant quality of work life improvement for pilots using an iPad, as there is no longer a need to lug a heavy kit bag around. An iPad weighs in at 1.6 pounds, and can store worldwide electronic terminal charts, en route charts, the entire ship’s library of manuals, all the maintenance procedures manuals, and operational data required, a near impossibility with paper.

American Airlines 777 pilots do carry the Quick Reference Handbook (QRH), and en route oceanic charts in paper format. Everything else is represented digitally. It is also interesting to note that some airlines average about 50 cases of injury on duty per year from pilot shoulder and back injuries received when twisting and stretching while placing the heavy kitbag into position on the flight deck. Implementing the iPad into flight crew operations eliminates the pain, suffering, surgery, and annual cost of these injuries.

Class I EFB program

When American began its Class I EFB program in late 2005, the iPad did not exist. At that time, the Allied Pilots Association did a survey of its membership to determine how many pilots carried a laptop computer with them on every flight. The result was an astounding 77%. The Association then approached the airline’s flight department management about building an electronic flight bag program. The Flight Department agreed that a significant potential existed, and a new program was born – ‘The First Step’ EFB program. The APA and the AA Flight Department also entered into a unique partnership, and created the AA EFB Team. The AA EFB Team then met with the FAA Certificate Management Office in Fort Worth, Texas to determine the viability of allowing pilots to store their flight manuals and required in-flight reference materials on the laptops that they were already carrying with them on every trip.

The FAA approved AA’s Class I EFB program, and American built a flight manual download portal on their pilot website – a place where pilots could go and download all the flight operations manuals onto their personal computers, resulting in their ability to leave those same paper manuals at home. The First Step Program was a real hit with the flight crews, and the pilot response was tremendously and overwhelmingly positive.

iPad Introduction

A couple of years later, when the iPad was first introduced by Apple, the paradigm shift from paper terminal charts to a digital database began as the iPad is an ideal terminal chart viewer and it meets all the FAA requirements for displaying a digital charting solution, including DO-160F rapid depressurization testing, and electromagnetic interference testing. History was made in the aviation industry when American Airlines won FAA approval to use the iPad as a Class I device with Type A applications – a first in the industry and in the world.



American set the standard, and other airlines followed. Nearly a year later Alaska Airlines also gained FAA approval to use the iPad instead of paper manuals as a Class I device. United Airlines followed suit, and UPS has entered the iPad world as well. American wasn’t finished though, and on June 16th of 2011, American Airlines became the first Part 121 carrier in the world to launch two 777s with iPads containing digital flight manuals, and digital terminal charts. June 16th was the beginning of what would be a six month limited line test (LLT) conducted by the 777 pilots of the Los Angeles crew base. Pilots checked out iPads from charging stands before the trip, and checked them back in after the trip was over. This system allowed American to test the iPad’s potential without a significant capital investment in hardware or software. 



The LLT process was a complete success, and in December 2011, American Airlines was again the first in the world to be issued an FAA OpsSpec A061 which allows all of American’s flight manuals and terminal charts to be electronically based on iPad. American currently has FAA approval to operate Apple iPads as a Class I EFB, with Type A and Type B applications during all phases of flight.


Jeppesen Mobile TC Pro

A partner in American’s endeavor to shift the paradigm from paper to digital terminal charts is the Jeppesen Company (owned by Boeing Aircraft Company). The American Airlines EFB Team, and the Jeppesen iOS programmer team worked together to enhance and implement the JeppTC iPad charting application that could be used in Part 121 air carrier operations. The result is an application called the Jeppesen TC Pro. It is a robust application that allows pilots to store, view and update charts with literally one press of the button. AA has been a customer of Jeppesen for over 50 year

What about Android OS?

Cracking the Android nut (so to speak) will be a daunting task. Although airlines like to have both software and hardware choices (to improve value received from a competitive contracting process), the Android operating system is full of security holes, and hosts the largest percentage of malware events recorded across any given time period, and any given OS. Because of the open source nature of its construction, the Android operating system is currently not suitable for use in Part 121 operations.

There are many variants of the Android OS, and many variants of Android hardware types available. Hardware and application configuration control is very difficult with this platform. Most hardware units have different processors, GPU’s, firmware, hard drives, etc., as well as many flavors of the Droid OS. It is increasingly difficult for programmers to write code for all the variants of the internal components, therefore the required application may not behave the same across different hardware platforms making successful software implementation extremely difficult from a programming view.

The Apple iOS operating system does not have this problem. Apple locks down the hardware specification, and set’s the iOS standards (which do not vary), and this eliminates 99.9% of the variables, which results in an easy implementation strategy for airline IT departments. Additionally, the iOS system was designed with the corporate enterprise in mind, so VPN and other security schemes are easily implementable and very robust.

Application options

Today, so many different electronic charting and electronic maintenance logbook applications exist, it would be impossible to discuss them all in the limited space of this report. There are however, a few iPad applications that stand out from the rest.

Lufthansa Systems – LIDO/iRoute Manual Pro

In the electronic charting and database world, the Lufthansa Systems LIDO/iRM Pro full color iPad application containing terminal charts is superb. Their application’s human interface is well thought out and implemented, and their volume pricing structure makes the product affordable across small and large enterprises, which has the potential to significantly reduce an airline’s costs for a digital charting solution. Currently FEDEX, and other international carriers use their product. They also build custom tailored charts for any airline’s operational theater.

UltraMain Systems USI

This Albuquerque New Mexico based US company designs electronic maintenance logbook software both for the flight deck and back office implementations. Their products include efbTechLogs™, eReporting™, and damage Log™; all of which include the associated ground systems. Currently KLM, and Singapore Airlines are using UltraMain products, and recently UltraMain was awarded OEM status with Boeing, so their products will fly on Boeing airliners right out of the factory.

System integrators

The AA EFB Team did all the system integration and implementation work. The path for AA was well defined by FAA regulation, and the iPad was extremely easy to implement on the 777 because most of the human factors consideration regarding the iPad’s secured and viewable location were already engineered by the Boeing Human Factors Group.

What about Class II hardware devices?

Regarding the various Class II devices available to airline operators, the field has been full of dismal offerings over the past few years. Most units were a complete compromise, and really anti-high tech and unsuitable for airline flight deck operations. Today, there are a few nice boxes out there, but some still are lacking in the hardware engineering specification, and use Windows as an operating system, which is, in itself a serious compromise of data security, and reliability.

Also to note, many of the Class II hardware builders across the past five years have gone out of business. They tried to use old, Pentium M class processors that got hot, were slow, and failed much of the time. The amount of RAM available for use was small, and the communications protocols were 25 years old. Some even used ‘film on glass’ touch screens and of course, the touch surface wore out easily in actual line operations. Many units used rotating platter hard drives, which are unsuitable for airline operations due to vibrations and oscillations that are translated through the mounting bracket into the EFB unit itself.

Summary

The Apple iPad Class I EFB, when fitted with appropriate software, and integrated into a company’s enterprise network, has the potential to have a very short return on investment (ROI) period, as well as returning about 75% of what an all up Class III device, fully implemented value would be. This is because although the Class III device is a more purpose built, certified, bolted-in the-aircraft design, the number of applications that can save airlines money are currently somewhat limited by outside constraints.



It’s my belief that once the airspace systems around the world are synchronized and modernized, and more NextGen feature/benefits are known and come online, the Class III device will bring airlines significant efficiencies in the way that they will fly the aircraft – such as using In-Trail software and procedures, oceanic climb/descend and direct to, just to name a few. Fully implementing those systems will require significant and continued investment by governments and airline operators. Most modern aircraft have ADS-B out transponders, but only a few have ADS-B in capabilities.

The ADS-B in capability can cost upwards of seventy thousand dollars for each tail, so airlines are reluctant to install the required electronics, when the ground infrastructure does not exist, and other aircraft are not similarly equipped.

So in the near term, when paired with the appropriate application(s), the Apple iPad, used as a Class I device (with an ‘all phase of flight’ approval from the regulator) is an excellent option for Part 121 and 135 airline and freight operators who want to get the best bang for their buck, with minimal capital expenditure up front, and very minimal equipment maintenance. That the iPad works well and lasts a long time, is a paradigm that will not be eclipsed anytime soon by the competition.

Disclaimer

This report is the opinion of the author, Hank Putek Jr, and not necessarily American Airlines. The author has spent the past seven years on the American Airlines EFB Team and, as such, has been instrumental in all phases of AA’s EFB program design, acquisition, implementation, and regulator approval of such. Hank can be contacted at: apaefb@alliedpilots.org, and hank@KestrelAviationGroup.com .

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