For operators of commercial aircraft, including airlines and business jet charter or fractional-share operations, gaining regulator approval for use of iPad tablet computers as Class 2 electronic flight bags (EFBs) can take time and effort. There is a simpler way to complete this process and that is working with a company that has figured out what needs to be done to satisfy the regulators and meet aeronautical quality standards.
Avionics Systems & Integration Group (ASIG) has developed the flyTab suite of hardware devices and software applications for cockpit iPad installations, and these cover secure mounting of the iPad, power conditioning, connectivity to aircraft data and a software development kit (SDK) for Apple iOS applications specific to aviation needs. Non-commercial Part 91 operators can also benefit from flyTab capabilities because the flyTab system satisfies regulatory standards. The flyTab suite is on demo at ASIG’s RAA convention exhibit (Booth 734).
The flyTab suite includes not only hardware and software but also is part of a consortium of ASIG and its partners, which develops hardware and software solutions to work with flyTab. ASIG is focusing solely on the Apple iPad market with flyTab, due to Apple’s high level of iOS operating system and hardware security and the utility of the iPad. “There is no better infrastructure to secure the avionics domain than iOS,” said ASIG partner and managing director Luke Ribich. “We look at all of the different tablets, that’s why called it flyTab, not flyPad, but there’s nothing even close to being as secure as the iPad.”
For operators, adding flyTab capabilities can begin with an iPad mounting system, which includes a permanently installed mount with an articulating pivot point. The ASIG PedTray holds the iPad securely and is available for any iPad type, including those with older 30-pin connectors or the current Lightning connector. To protect the iPad, ASIG offers the portable InCase Enclosure, which has been tested and qualified to MIL-STD-810G standards. If Apple changes the iPad design, it’s easy to replace the PedTray and InCase, which will always interface with the mount.
The next layer of functionality comes with addition of flyTab interfaces to the aircraft. The Power Conditioning Module (PCM) delivers filtered and monitored power to the mount and is EMI- and RMI-compliant and helps ensure safe charging of the iPad’s lithium-ion battery. The Aircraft Interface Module (AIM), built by flyTab consortium member Shadin Avionics, moves aircraft data to up to two iPads. This can include data from central maintenance computers, flight management systems, GPS receivers and other aircraft sensors and systems. The AIM is hard-wired into the flyTab mount and thus there is zero wireless communication from the device to the iPad, further reducing any security vulnerabilities.
AIM installations have qualified with the FAA for display of own-ship position on iPads by commercial operators, according to Ribich. The flyTab AIM is also technical standard order (TSO) approved. “When using approved sensors like TSO‘d GPS and TSOed data interfaces, own-ship position shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “We can take certified output from the FMS or aux nav [source], and that data is certified into the iPad. The iPad isn’t doing any computation on that data. It’s like a smart display.” According to Ribich, “we have multiple commercial operators that are able to do such things.”
ASIG flyTab users aren’t limited to the commercially available iPad apps, although these work well in a flyTab installation, and many customers are using Jeppesen Mobile Flitedeck, ForeFlight Mobile and others. Customers can develop their own apps using the flyTab Software Development Kit (SDK), developed by consortium member AppOrchard’s SpatiOS division.
With the SDK, flyTab users can use the SDK’s widgets to create customized aircraft logbook functions, replicate a quick-access recorder, add moving maps, set up maintenance computer downloads and so on. Of course, ASIG also offers apps that do all these functions. The free flyTab Cockpit app can be configured to pull all sorts of data off the aircraft, which can be used to serve iPad apps. ASIG offers a quick-access recorder (QAR) widget that can be used by maintenance techs to trend monitor aircraft components and systems or even to create a “golden image” of a flight like a real QAR. ASIG’s e-logbook app, Ribich said, “can automatically populate data fields from aircraft-gathered information.” Operators that use paper logbooks usually endure weeks or months of delays before data is updated, he explained, because a clerk at headquarters must enter the data. “All this can be done automatically and without human-induced errors,” he said, then sent automatically via satcom or on the ground via Wi-Fi or cellular networks.
In an aircraft equipped with satcom, messages can be sent in real time or at specified intervals with systems data, exceedances and flight-tracking information. “It’s pretty cost effective to punch that data off the aircraft,” he said. “The app, if it starts to sense issues, could say, ‘This system no longer reporting data or inconsistent data.’ Then it is sent via satcom to the operations control center: ‘This is a potential issue, here’s the time and location of the issue.’ So dispatchers and maintenance can be aware of it.”
ASIG has developed flyTab configurations for all Bombardier regional jet models, including the business aviation versions, Dash 8s and Challengers and Boeing’s 767-200 and -300 models. Upcoming programs include the Global Express, Falcon 900 and 737. ASIG is also discussing forward-fit flyTab installations with some OEMs. Total retail price for a flyTab installation is $25,500 for dual mounts, power conditioning units and AIMs. The SDK costs an additional $10,000.