NBAA Convention News

Flight Options' electronic brain bags are pilot's pals

 - June 30, 2008, 11:44 AM

Flight Options’ paperless cockpits are so well-liked by its pilots that those who end up with airplanes not yet equipped with electronic flight bags (EFBs) feel slighted.

James Miller, v-p of Flight Options, said here yesterday that the two “hot things for us this year” are installing EFBs in the remainder of the fractional giant’s 200-plus fleet of airplanes and putting AirCell satcom phones in all of its aircraft.    

Flight Options said it is the only fractional jet provider to equip its fleet with paperless cockpit technology. When it merged with Raytheon Travel Air, none of those airplanes had the EFB systems. “It’s a tool they desperately want,” said Miller. “The emphasis of the device is to lower crew workload and make them more efficient.”

Miller said Flight Options first began using basic portable electronic devices (PEDs) in September 1999. Since then, it has expanded the functionality of the system to include electronic weight and balance, aircraft performance calculation features, checklists and technical support documents.

Flight Options has never had a dual failure and has never had to resort to FMS or a battery pack. There is paper backup in case of failure, and the company can resort to faxing trip information to the crews.

As a result of equipping its jets with EFBs, Flight Options has experienced improved fleet readiness, enhanced reliability and reduced pilot workload. Miller said that 85 percent of the fleet is operating with EFBs. “We expect 100 percent of our fleet to be equipped with EFBs in the next 60 days,” he said.

With the EFBs on board each aircraft, pilots can access technical data, including maintenance and operation manuals and aircraft wiring diagrams instead of having to go to Flight Options’ technical services department. This allows for convenient maintenance at multiple facilities, which is often the case for fractional jet providers. The added efficiency means shorter turn time between flights and shortened maintenance cycles.

Each aircraft carries two monitors, so both pilots can view an approach simultaneously, or one pilot can go through a checklist while the other prepares the approach information. In addition, aircraft dispatch and maintenance logs (Form 501) are also installed on the pen-based system. This electronic form allows a digital signature to be entered, which expedites the approval process.

Joe Salata, Flight Options’ chief pilot, said that crews are “thrilled” to be assigned to an aircraft outfitted with EFBs. “The new system allows more time for crews to devote to flying–instead of endless paperwork,” he said. “Chart update time is reduced to a mere five-minute CD download, as opposed to the tedious process of manually updating paper charts.”

Miller said that Flight Options leads the fractional industry in cabin entertainment, which began as a competitive edge and now is driven by customer satisfaction.

With a cellular-based airborne telecommunications system, reception has been limited to the U.S. and was often lost when operating in mountainous regions. Flight Options is installing AirCell’s new ST 3100, which uses Iridium Satellite’s global network of low-earth-orbit satellites to provide worldwide satcom telephone and data services to the cockpit and cabin. Miller said that Flight Options had been using AirCell’s cellular system, which it began installing three years ago.

Miller said his current “wish list” includes wideband data at “an affordable price” and video on demand. Although the aircraft stock a variety of titles, he would like to see a solid-state library.