EFB devices a supplement for glass cockpits

 - October 9, 2006, 1:57 PM

Are portable electronic flight bag (EFB) computing devices merely a stepping stone until business aircraft operators get around to installing cockpit equipment that integrates electronic charts with glass displays? Avionics manufacturers hope so, but business aircraft operators appear to have different ideas.

An entire industry seems to have sprung up around the concept of modifying lightweight handheld PCs to serve as cockpit EFBs by loading Jeppesen’s JeppView chart software. The advantages are a low cost, small size and the elimination of paper from the flight deck if two EFBs are carried on board, with one acting as a backup for the other.

But why use a relatively fragile commercial off-the-shelf device to do a job that the avionics–with some modifications–could handle far better, avionics makers ask? The question business aircraft operators have started to ask, however, is why not use both?

An operator of a King Air B200 flying with the Pro Line 21 avionics system has gone paperless by installing a single Rockwell Collins IFIS (integrated flight information system) computer file server that contains a full Jeppesen nav database. As a backup, the operator carries a single handheld EFB, also loaded with current charts. The EFB remains stowed during flight, but it is available in case of emergency.

During normal operations, the pilots view the charts and other electronic data on the Pro Line 21’s displays. The setup, said this operator, allowed his company to save about $40,000–the cost of installing a second optional IFIS file server.

Rockwell Collins touts the ability to install two file servers as a way to move completely away from paper charts. Understandably, the FAA wants Part 135 operators to fly with two independent computers loaded with current data so they always have a backup in case of failure of one EFB. Most typical EFBs sold through third-party vendors are class-2 devices, meaning they cannot interface with other aircraft systems such as the FMS.

The IFIS server from Collins, and a similar hardware package from Honeywell for the Primus Epic and Epic CDS/R cockpits, is considered a class-3 device, and therefore it can talk to the other avionics boxes. A major advantage of the class-3 system is its ability to overlay a moving aircraft symbol on approach charts and airport diagrams for improved situational awareness.

The Collins IFIS gives pilots access to an array of flight-related information, from charts and checklists to datalink information services. For example, with the push of a few buttons, pilots can access graphical or satellite weather, winds aloft, icing and strategic information, such as turbulence, that might affect the flight.

For improved flight deck organization and situational awareness, electronic charts can be displayed to provide approach plates, airport diagrams, SIDs and STARs. Flight management system maps can be enhanced by adding geopolitical features, restricted and controlled airspace, and high- and low-altitude airways.

Integrated Chartsfrom Honeywell

Honeywell, meanwhile, has already started offering electronic charts in Primus Epic systems that have 10- by 13-inch cockpit displays. The first certification was granted last year for the Gulfstream G550. The avionics maker plans to have charts and graphical weather capability for the smaller displays and the Epic CDS/R retrofit cockpit ready for certification by aircraft manufacturers and installation centers later this year.

Like the Collins IFIS setup, the integrated electronic charts Honeywell has been showing customers are better than what is available on typical handheld EFBs. Honeywell has announced an alliance with Jeppesen to bring integrated navigation data services to operators flying with Honeywell’s Primus Epic cockpit with iNav (interactive navigation) avionics.

The service includes a suite of worldwide navigation information including electronic Jeppesen charts, en route navigation data, geopolitical boundary information, airspace and communications data, terrain data and obstacles. Both the Collins and Honeywell systems include small joystick cursor controllers for accessing drop-down menus on the displays, similar to those on Windows on a PC.