Pilots will be able to use their tablet devices as fully functional Class II electronic flight bags (EFBs) thanks to the new Tablet Interface Module (TIM) being introduced by UTC Aerospace Systems. The low-cost solution has been developed by the group’s Sensors & Integrated Solutions division and is being demonstrated here at UTC’s NBAA exhibit (Booth No. C7418).
According to Jim Tuitt, director of business development with UTC’s cockpit data management team, the key to TIM’s ability to transform tablets into fully functional EFBs is its aircraft interface device (AID). Traditional EFBs can connect directly to the AID (which effectively acts as a firewall to the avionics systems), but tablets need TIM to connect.
For Apple iPads this provides both conditioned power and data from cockpit systems, and they can connect via a USB port (or wirelessly via Bluetooth). Windows-based tablets, for now, can connect only wirelessly and so can only receive data. The equipment is also compatible with iPad Mini tablets, saving further space in confined cockpits such as those of smaller business aircraft.
The AID is based on an Arinc 834 server and it can interface with any avionics suite that supports Arinc 429 and 717 databuses, as well as serial connections such as RS4232 and Ethernet links. This means that the aircraft’s systems can provide the tablet with key flight data such as the aircraft’s position in latitude and longitude, its speed, as well as fuel consumption and distance to destination, plus weather information and Notams, if available. The system can also connect the tablet to aircraft condition and maintenance data that would be stored in an electronic technical log.
“If the [datalink] connection to the aircraft goes down, you’ve still got an independent tablet in a Class 2 configuration that would be available [as an EFB] for all phases of flight,” Tuitt told AIN. “If one iPad fails then one of the others in the cockpit would still work.” Up to three tablets can connect to each TIM.
Smaller and Lighter
UTC is billing TIM as a much smaller and lighter EFB solution to existing technology that requires a larger server. “As well as providing data from the aircraft, it can also be a networking solution communicating between tablets,” explained Tuitt. “It’s a right-sized server. It reduces pilot workload and improves their accuracy.”
TIM is due to enter service this fall on a mix of Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s with some unnamed airlines. UTC is now in discussion with business aircraft manufacturers and expects to have new applications for TIM in the near future. The system itself does have to be installed under a supplemental type certificate or fitted as original equipment on new aircraft by the airframer. The tablets themselves simply need approval by the local FAA field office for use as an EFB.
Unlike avionics-grade EFBs, such as UTC’s Class 2 and Class 3 SmartDisplay products, tablets enabled for EFB use via TIM are not likely to be approved to meet the evolving requirements of air traffic management programs such as NextGen in the U.S. and Europe’s Sesar. However, Tuitt said that operators that don’t want to make the higher investment in a full-blown EFB for now will at least benefit from using tablets as a first step. UTC has not released pricing details for TIM but argued that by allowing wider use of tablets in the cockpit the system represents a far more affordable first-step for some operators than traditional EFBs.