EFBs see increase in activity due to NextGen interest
Designers of electronic flight bags (EFBs) say there is increased interest among airlines and operators in EFBs as a cost-effective solution for integrating Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) technology, but the overall market still remains relatively flat.
Apr 7th, 2011
By John McHaleDesigners of electronic flight bags (EFBs) say there is increased interest among airlines and operators in EFBs as a cost-effective solution for integrating Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) technology, but the market still remains relatively flat."We cannot give endorsement to the statement that the avionics market is turning around," says Ken Crowhurst, vice president at navAero in Chicago. "What we are seeing is a fairly rapid up-tick in interest in EFB technologies in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Asia). The marketplace in the Americas remains relative flat due to the economic situation and the on-going mergers and consolidations. We do see the Class 2 EFB marketplace as one that has moved from being an emerging technology to one that has migrated into the growth stage as a stable business segment. "In 2003 through 2009, there were more than a dozen or more providers of EFB technology attempting to convince the commercial aviation marketplace that their technology was the best solution available," he continues. "Today, there are basically four providers focused on the commercial airline industry. It is now up to these providers to continue to drive the industry to realize the full potential of EFB technology and to drive the technology itself to new levels through re-invention."Long-term expectations for the avionics market are looking good and should start to take off when the Boeing 787 begins full deployment and as NextGen technology becomes more prevalent throughout the industry, says Eyton Zelazo, business development manager at Astronautics Corporation of America in Milwaukee, Wis. Astronautics Class 3 EFBs are standard equipment on the 787, he adds. Regarding NextGen the airlines see EFBs as cost-effective way to implement NextGen technology, Zelazo says. They no longer see EFBs as a bad word, he adds.The only thing that might slow growth would be rising fuel prices, says Bill Ruhl, regional marketing manager at Astronautics. If fuel prices continue to rise, the airlines might slow their investment in new technology, he adds.There is "strong demand in general and business aviation -- where EFB is a standard option -- but slower growth in air transport market," says Jean-Marie Begis, director, electronic flight bags at Esterline CMC Electronics in Montreal.Retrofits"We see the retrofit market growing" due to future investment in NextGen technology, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), and other areas where EFBs are an enabler of technology, Ruhl says."The retrofit market for EFB technology is a core business," Crowhurst says. "While some airlines are shedding older aircraft and replacing them with more fuel efficient models, there are thousands of transport category aircrafts that are operating today -- and will be operating for years to come -- that are all candidates for being deployed with EFB technology. As airlines struggle for cost-saving business practices, the realization is that the most efficient way to cut costs is through the adoption of expanded information technology and system automation. EFB platforms on the flight deck can help to bring IT solutions to play on aircraft that were never designed to be a part of an airlines IT infrastructure. We see the adoption of retrofit programs to be an expanding marketplace for many years to come."EFBs are "a tough sell in the retrofit air transport market due to economic conditions," Begis says. Tech trends: Class 2 vs. Class 3"The Class II EFB trend is that the paperless cockpit concept is well understood by the industry," Crowhurst says. "So now, we are seeing the need to empower Class 2 EFB systems with greater capabilities. This includes more connectivity and interoperability with avionic systems to enable advanced functions like moving map, traffic control, and on-ground traffic avoidance."Reducing paper in the cockpit is not a strong enough economical argument to use EFBs, Ruhl says. NextGen is also how airlines can make the business case for using EFBs, he notes."We see a push toward Class 3 as a way to support NextGen technology in EFBs," Ruhl notes. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing say they see EFBs as the only economical way to show NextGen information on existing aircraft, he adds.The main difference between Class 2 and Class 3 EFBs is that Class 3s can host Type C certified applications and has to be DO-160 and DO-178B level C certification for its operating system, Ruhl says. Astronautics uses a Linux qualified system that is certified for operation on the Boeing aircraft he adds."Airlines want assurances that if they choose at some point in the future to adopt NextGen, enroute (merging and spacing), and other applications that are defined and categorized as a Type C application which must be hosted on a certified operating system, that the technology platform they install will have the capability to host the Type C application and be authorized for use.," Crowhurst says.Class 3s are also not portable devices, and can be given PMA (Parts Manufacturer Approval), which means they can be installed on any aircraft without having to get re-qualified, Ruhl continues says. A class 3 is installed equipment and designed to be supported and operated for many years, he adds.A Class 2 would have to get operational approval each time it is placed on an aircraft because it is portable in nature, Ruhl says. Also many Class 2 EFB designers do not have an FAA-authorized repair center, making it difficult to maintain the EFB, he adds.The airlines and Boeing prefer PMA equipment because it fits into their normal operating procedures, Ruhl says."One of the trends we are seeing is the potential EFB airline customers want all of the Class 2 hardware component parts to be fully PMA'd parts, Crowhurst says. "In the past year, we have not seen any significant technological improvements made by any of the Class 2 EFB manufacturer as a competitive step towards assailing Class 3 technology," Crowhurst points out. "With raising fuel costs and even more scrutiny being given to bottom-line cost savings, we are actually seeing more customers complaining about the overall suitability of locked down Class 3 solutions in regard to their lack of operational flexibility to meet changing operational needs and requirements."For many new Airbus and Boeing aircraft coming right out of the factory, NextGen information will be placed on the forward flight displays and not EFBs, Ruhl says. However, EFBs will still have a use on the new aircraft such as eliminating paper as document readers, he adds. Many airlines don't want to provide PCs to the pilots because there is a cost involved, Ruhl says. Some airlines have no interest in having PCs that pilots can remove from the planes and others that use portable PCs will be transitioning to installed equipment in the future, he adds.Ruhl notes that the biggest advocate among airlines for "having PCs in the cockpit is Lufthansa, which has an Airbus docking station on the aircraft. They're a strong advocate of Class 2 and prefer pilots to have PCs."iPad"We don't see the Apple iPad as a threat, but as a nice backup to Class 3 EFB," Ruhl says. Currently it is only certified as Class 1, but there are efforts in the industry underway to certify it as a Class 2, he adds."As far as I know when in an airline cockpit, the iPad is strapped to the pilot's knee, Ruhl says. It has advantages as it is inexpensive, Jeppesen has developed applications for it, and it can be used as a document reader, he continues. In some general aviation applications pilots may use it as Internet interface as well, Ruhl adds.Airlines are starting to use the device as well, Ruhl says. For example Continental Airlines is considering using the iPad as a backup to a Class 2 EFB, he adds. However, some airlines, which already have PCs on board and see no advantage in using an iPad, Ruhl says.Jeppesen engineers recently tested the iPad 2 for use in commercial aircraft cockpits and recently completed rapid decompression testing of the iPad 2 as part of that process. The test was completed to an altitude of 51,000 feet, proving the integrity of iPad 2 in the unlikely event of sudden cabin pressure loss. Last year, Jeppesen completed a similar flight test of a representative iPad as part of a successful program to obtain initial FAA authorization for the Jeppesen Mobile TC charting App. Because of structural changes in iPad 2, Jeppesen determined that a new test was warranted. No anomalies were detected during either iPad testing period. The Jeppesen Mobile TC App is available from the App Store on iPad or at www.itunes.com/appstore/ at no additional charge for Jeppesen electronic navigation charting subscribers. It's all about the appsMuch like PCs and iPads, software applications for EFBs are becoming a driving factor in the market.EFB applications include airport moving maps, en route weather, and real-time data, Begis says. "The maturity of applications being supported by EFBs" is a positive in the market, he adds.Crowhurst says he sees "integration and automation via avionic connectivity," as a driving factor in EFB applications.Astronautics applications revolve around the cockpit display of traffic information (CDTI). The company involved in an in-trail procedures demonstration with ACSS in Phoenix over the Northern Pacific that is being evaluated by a number of airlines, Ruhl says. "Adding in-trail procedures enables users to optimize climb and descent over oceanic areas," he adds. Another CDTI application from Astronautics is part of an FAA program evaluating merging and spacing at three U.S. airport hubs, Ruhl says.OfferingsThe SafeRoute system, jointly developed by Astronautics and ACSS for the EFB, offers certified applications integratign ADS-B technology, Zelazo says. It integrates ACSS Saferoute applications that use CDTI for the display of moving map with own-ship position and other capabilities such as merging and spacing, in-trail procedures, CDTI assisted visual separation, surface area movement management (SAMM).Engineers at navAero have designed an Aircraft Interface Device (AID), which ensures non-interference with the aircraft, as the secure link to the aircraft. The AID hosts physical protection and isolation to ensure non-interference of attached data buses and discretes. The device can provide access to seven discrete signals and as many as eight different ARINC 429-based avionics systems per EFB. CMC offers the PilotView family of Class 2 EFBs that is installed on more than 40 aircraft platforms. PilotView comes in 8.4-inch and 10.4-inch EFB versions and an enhanced display option is available for both configurations. Applications can be supported by the PilotView EFB system, including Jeppesen and LH Systems charting applications, XM and Sirius-based weather mapping applications, and airport Cockpit Display of Traffic Information (CDTI). The latter relies on the ACSS Automatic ADS-B sensors and SafeRoute offering.