TAG begins phasing out paper in favor of Jeppesen e-charts

 - April 17, 2008, 11:44 AM

About 30 TAG Aviation pilots have made the switch from paper to electrons, replacing the Jeppesen approach chart binders in their business jet cockpits with small, lightweight Fujitsu touch-screen computers.

Larry Edeal, vice president of flight operations for TAG in San Francisco, said the charter and management company eventually plans to supply the handheld computers to most of its 359 pilots around the world. The shift away from paper by one of the world’s largest charter operators is a high-profile example of a growing trend toward handheld cockpit computers, aimed at eliminating weight and freeing space inside the airplane, while simultaneously saving money by doing away with expensive paper chart revisions.

Edeal explained that after evaluating a variety of handheld computers, TAG shied away from the commercial electronic flight bag (EFB) products on the market, such as the FlightGuide 3500 computer and Northstar’s CT-1000, which he said carry much higher price tags than off-the-shelf equipment. The Fujitsu Stylus LT P-600 pen tablet computer TAG settled on has a 600-MHz Pentium processor and 8.4-in. AMLCD color display. Including an external keyboard, CD-ROM drive and printer, said Edeal, each computer sells for less than $5,000 through TAG’s program partner, Flight Deck Resources of Dana Point, Calif., saving the company about $4,000 per computer over comparable EFB equipment.

Close to 30 pilots have gone through training and are now flying with the homegrown EFB. The onboard printer means crews aren’t entirely without paper, but Edeal made it clear the computer is meant to be used as the primary source during approach and the paper as a backup.

That assertion, however, seemed to fly in the face of what the FAA has told TAG.
“We have authority from the FAA to use the computers during approach,” Edeal explained. “Official policy is that crews are supposed to print the departure, arrival and alternate airports and use the printouts during approach, with the computer serving only as an emergency backup. In reality, we are urging our pilots to use the EFB in day-to-day operations, and keep the paper as a backup.”

Edeal explained that TAG is advising pilots to use the EFBs so that they become familiar with their operation. Edeal said that while most pilots have expressed a willingness to fly with the display, there will invariably be crews who won’t even switch the computers on after they’ve printed the approach plates. That, he said, would be a mistake.

“It’s change. Everybody is comfortable with paper, and so it’s not surprising that there would be some resistance,” he said. “My retort to those who choose not to use the EFB, however, is that safety may be compromised if three months go by and it’s a dark and stormy night and the pilots find themselves in a situation where they must use the computer.”

If a crew needs to change its plans en route and head for another airport for which approach charts have not been printed, it is authorized to fly using only the EFB, Edeal noted. The onboard printer allows the pilots to get a paper chart, but if the printer is not set up, or if for some reason it is not operating, then the cockpit becomes truly paperless, and the pilots are “perfectly within the regulations,” he said.

TAG initially began a search for a suitable EFB about a year ago. The Swiss-based firm enlisted a team of pilots to evaluate several popular EFBs and make recommendations. Once the Fujitsu computer was determined to be the best, TAG started working with its local FAA POI in San Francisco, a process that took about eight months to complete. The result was a comprehensive training curriculum that is now leading to the gradual switch from bulky Jepp binders to Jeppesen FlightView CDs.

The EFBs are flying aboard GVs, GIVs and Challengers, with a Hawker 800 scheduled to make the switch next month. On average, the 2.5-lb computer replaces eight Jepp binders, for significant space and weight savings, said Edeal. The FAA required TAG to provide a standalone EFB platform, meaning one on which no other software has been installed. TAG also requires crews to carry a standard notebook computer loaded with JeppView to serve as the emergency backup to the EFB.

Edeal said more and more crews are requesting the EFBs, and that base managers have been recommending the paperless approach to management clients.
“Every day I get calls from our pilots wanting to learn more about the Fujitsu computer,” Edeal said.

Asked about the long-term prospects for EFBs in the cockpit, Edeal said he expects to see a shift away from paper in the next decade to more and more paperless applications. Beyond this, Edeal said he thinks approach and en route charts will be integrated with the FMS and displayed on large-format multifunction displays, similar to the PlaneView and EASy cockpits now being developed by Honeywell for Gulfstream and Dassault, respectively.