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Electronic flight bag (EFB) is an electronic information management device that helps flight crews perform flight management tasks more easily and efficiently with less paper. It is a general purpose computing platform intended to reduce, or replace, paper-based reference material often found in the pilot's carry-on flight bag, including the aircraft operating manual, flight-crew operating manual, and navigational charts (including moving map for air and ground operations). In addition, the EFB can host purpose-built software applications to automate other functions normally conducted by hand, such as performance take-off calculations.
The EFB gets its name from the traditional pilot's flight bag, which is typically a heavy (up to 40 lb/18 kg or more) documents bag that pilots carry to the cockpit. The electronic flight bag is the replacement of those documents in a digital format. EFB weights are typically 1 to 5 pounds (0.5 to 2.2 kg), about the same as a laptop computer, and a fraction of the weight and volume of the paper publications. There are numerous benefits for using an EFB but specific benefits vary depending on the size of the operation, type of applications used, the existing content management and distribution system, the type of applications deployed. Some common benefits include: weight savings by replacing the traditional flight bag, reduced medical claims from handling traditional flight bags, reduced cost, and increased efficiency by reducing or eliminating paper processes. There are also claims of increased safety and reducing pilot workload.
There are also militarized variants, with secure data storage, night vision goggle compatible lighting, environmental hardening, and military specific applications and data.
EFB devices can display a variety of aviation data or perform basic calculations (including performance data and fuel calculations.). In the past, some of these functions were traditionally accomplished using paper references or were based on data provided to the flight crew by an airline's "flight dispatch" crew.
For large and turbine aircraft, FAR 91.503 requires the presence of navigational charts on the airplane. If an operator's sole source of navigational chart information is contained on an EFB, the operator must demonstrate the EFB will continue to operate throughout a decompression event, and thereafter, regardless of altitude. The only way to achieve this capability is by using a solid state disk drive or a standard rotating mass drive in a sealed enclosure.
The earliest EFB precursors came from individual pilots in the early 1990s who used their personal laptops and common software (such as Spreadsheets and Word Processing applications) to perform such functions as weight and balance calculations and filling out operational forms. One of the earliest and broadest EFB implementations was in 1991 when FedEx deployed their Airport Performance Laptop Computer to carry out aircraft performance calculations on the aircraft (this was a commercial off-the-shelf computer and was considered portable). In addition, FedEx also began deploying Pilot Access Terminals on their airplane in the mid-1990s. These later devices were common laptops that used a certified docking station on the airplanes (to connect to power and data interfaces). In 1996, Aero Lloyd, a German carrier, introduced two laptops to compute the performance and access the documentation. The system called FMD (Flight Management Desktop) permits Aero Lloyd to remove all the documentation and RTOW in paper from the cockpit with the Luftfahrt-Bundesamt (German Civil Aviation Authority) agreement. Other companies, including Southwest followed with "carry-on" performance computers, but they remained on the airplane as a practical matter. JetBlue took a different approach by converting all of its operations documents to electronic format and distributing them over a network to laptop computers that were issued to pilots (versus to the airplane). The first true EFB, designed specifically to replace a pilot's entire kit bag, was patented by Angela Masson as the Electronic Kit Bag (EKB) in 1999. In 2004 the first commercial Class 2 EFB was certified (STC No. ST03165AT) and installed by Avionics Support Group, Inc. onto a Miami Air Boeing B737NG. The EFB was installed using the only US Patented (8231081) EFB mounting solution on the market, the cfMount™ .The EFB data was updated using a Terminal Wireless Unit (TWLU) installed at Miami Air's facility, that enabled the EFB to update only the files that had changed on the server. In 2006 MyTravel (a UK charter operation now merged with Thomas Cook airline) became the first to deploy an electronic tech log using GPRS communication, replacing the paper process. Thomas Cook has several years of successful operational experience of an EFB focussed on its UK fleet.
As personal computing technology became more compact and powerful, with extensive storage capabilities, these devices became capable of storing all the aeronautical charts for the entire world on a single three-pound (1.4 kg) computer, compared to the 80 lb (36 kg) of paper normally required for worldwide paper charts. New technologies such as real-time satellite weather and integration with GPS have further expanded the capabilities of electronic flight bags. However, for large commercial airlines, the primary problem with EFB systems is not the hardware on the aircraft, but the means to reliably and efficiently distribute content updates to the airplane.
While the adoption rate of the Electronic Flight Bag technology has been arguably slow among large scheduled air carriers, corporate operators have been rapidly deploying EFBs since 1999 due to reduced regulatory burden and easier cost justification.
The Air Force Special Operations Command purchased an initial supply of over 3,000 iPad-based EFBs which were globally fielded in July 2012. In a similar acquisition, Air Mobility Command initiated a contract for up to 18,000 iPad-based EFBs. The Air Force Special Operations Command internally developed a secure method of transferring the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency's (NGA) monthly Flight Information Publications (FLIP) dataset to all its users worldwide. Both Major Commands (MAJCOMs) pursued independent efforts to ensure continuous Ops for their aircrew. As a result of these pioneering successes, the DoD is now coordinating efforts for widespread, consolidated implementation of the EFB concept.
Electronic Flight Bags are divided into three hardware classes and three software types. Reference FAA Order 8900.1 FAA Inspector Handbook Guidance on FSIMS for the most recent and accurate descriptions:
EFB hardware classes include:
The EFB may host a wide array of applications, categorized in three software categories (Reference AC 120-76 as amended, for an actual list of examples):
Note: Type C applications are subject to airworthiness requirements, such as software certification. Type C applications must run on Class 3 EFB.
According to the FAA, Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3 EFB may act as a substitute for the paper manuals that pilots are otherwise required to carry with them. While Part 91 Operators (those not flying for hire, including private and corporate operators) can use their Pilot In Command (PIC) authority to approve the use of Class 1 and Class 2 EFBs (which are PEDs), operator with OpSpecs (Part 135, Part 121) must seek operational approval through the OpSpecs process.
EFB users and installers should be aware of recent, clarified guidance for FAA Inspectors. Draft guidance pertaining to EFB operational authorization and airworthiness/certification requirements is maintained by the FAA.
Clarifying the intent of FAA Advisory Circular AC 120-76A, new draft inspector handbook guidance includes the following requirements:
FAA rule 91.21 prohibits wireless and cellular electronics in aircraft while taxiing and in the air. 91.21 does allow pilots in command to allow non-transmitting devices in aircraft, but only after the PIC tests it under the guidelines of FAA 91.21(6).
There are many software options to create your own EFB, but most are made for T-PEDs, and as stated above, are prohibited in aircraft.
For historical reference on EFB market progression, also see: