Four Airlines Sign Up For EFB Trial

 - September 25, 2008, 9:25 AM

The FAA has reached agreements with four U.S. airlines to fund in-cockpit runway safety systems, in this case electronic flight bags (EFBs), in exchange for the operational data those systems would generate. Under the plan, the FAA will provide $600,000 each to SkyWest Airlines, Piedmont Airlines, US Airways and Southwest Airlines to invest in the new technology in airplanes they’ll fly into and out of 21 testbed airports.

Each airline will install the technology in 20 aircraft by May 15 next year. The agency expects to collect the initial results from the data analysis by next September. Each agreement remains in effect through September 2011. Meanwhile, the FAA continues to review other airlines’ proposals to deploy the technology, and it said it expects to announce other awards as part of the $5 million program. The agency chose the testbed airports based on their history of runway incursions or runway “safety issues.”

The airports include Los Angeles International; Boston Logan International; Chicago O’Hare; Newark; Cleveland; Fort Lauderdale; Houston Hobby; Anchorage; San Francisco; Las Vegas McCarran; Charlotte; Miami; Philadelphia; Albuquerque; Daytona Beach, Fla.; Phoenix; Dallas-Fort Worth; John F. Kennedy; Atlanta; La Guardia; and Seattle Sea-Tac.

“This technology is on every pilot’s wish list,” said FAA Acting Administrator Bobby Sturgell. “It’s going to be a big boost for runway safety. As a former airline pilot myself, I can tell you putting these systems in the cockpit will raise situational awareness considerably.”

According to an FAA spokesman, the technology will provide pilots with the level of situational awareness they’ll get with automated dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), considered a critical part of the NextGen air transportation system.

FAA research conducted with the airline industry and other experts showed the technology could have eliminated 44 percent of the serious runway incursions caused by pilot error in the U.S. between 2004 and 2008. “We believe the electronic flight bags will be particularly useful to pilots at night, in poor weather or when the crew is not familiar with the airport layout,” said the spokesman.

“We want carriers to install flight bags on aircraft that they fly into busy airports, such as [Los Angeles International], that have a history of runway incursions that could have been prevented with the technology,” said the FAA. “In fact, we believe LAX could realize the greatest benefit from this technology because it had the highest number of incursions that might have been prevented with it.”

The agency says it has received proposals from 22 airlines that want to participate in the trial program. The FAA said it would rank the proposals based on the number of flights that the airline’s EFB-equipped aircraft would make at its top target airports.