Since their introduction, electronic flight bags (EFB) have consistently grown and evolved to introduce new capabilities and functionality to meet the needs of pilots and flight crew members. While initially intended to function as a digital version of the heavy, difficult-to-update flight bags and folders that pilots were required to carry, increased cockpit connectivity has opened the door to numerous apps that can make the EFB an invaluable tool for pilots.
But are EFB applications becoming too prevalent for pilots? Are they getting all the tools and capabilities they need from their EFBs? And what would pilots and flight crews like to see added or changed about their EFBs?
To find out, we recently sat down with Brian Norris, EFB Program Manager at American Airlines, for his perspective on EFB advancements.
Connected Aviation Today (CAT): Based on your experience and the experience of some of the people you’ve talked to, have there been complaints about EFBs?
Brian Norris: When you have 15,000 pilots of all varying ages and experience levels, you’re not going to release anything that everyone enjoys; pilots are typically resistant to change. We spent a lot of time metering the changes we bring to EFBs because if we make too much of a leap in technology or functionality, pilots begin having issues with it. We try to introduce things iteratively, the way that IT processes are, a little bit at a time to onboard them.
Besides this transition, our pilots are happy with current EFBs because we have reduced shoulder, knee, and back injuries on the job and by not carrying big heavy books. This change has made our lives ten times easier. The 30 to 45 minutes it takes just to make paper revisions to our Jeppesen charts every two weeks has been eliminated with a push of a button.
We have given so much time back to our pilots.
“What we don’t have is the capability to see what the national airspace looks like. In other words, what’s the traffic out in front of me?” — Brian NOrris
CAT: We’ve recently been talking to companies that are creating new apps that can integrate into EFBs to make them better. Is there anything you heard from a capability or functionality standpoint you were excited about that you think it’d be a fantastic addition to EFBs?
Brian Norris: All of it, because I’m already doing most of it. American Airlines already has airborne Wi-Fi and the ability to extract weather airborne turbulence data so we can better protect our flight crews, flight attendants, and passengers.
I was excited since I’ve used the SkyPath application. There was an airplane in front of me and two minutes of rough air. I was able to give the other aircraft a 15-minute heads-up and button everything down on our plane.
I instructed passengers and the flight crew to sit in their seats and warned them of the turbulence ahead. More importantly, [I was able to] turn the seatbelt sign back off afterward, knowing we made it through the rough air.
CAT: Are there features you’d like to start seeing some of these organizations work into some of their EFBs, such as a functionality or capability you don’t have today?
Brian Norris: What we don’t have is the capability to see what the national airspace looks like. In other words, what’s the traffic out in front of me? How many people will be fighting for airspace in a given spot? Am I deviating around a thunderstorm? Or am I hitting one of the rival corner posts going into a particular airport?
Additionally, I can save all the gas in the world, but if I get there ten minutes early, and save a bunch of gas and time, now I’m over capacity for that quarter. They gave me a turn and hold in lieu of a procedure turn, and I just wasted all that effort. So that’s the next piece we are trying to incorporate into EFBs.
We’ve done a great job of turning paper manuals into digital ones. We’ve done a great job of optimizing flights. The next step will be focused on how we optimize the system, looking beyond just our aircraft.
“Many airlines do not have airborne Wi-Fi yet. As the satellites in the Wi-Fi providers get more efficient, less expensive, and included on more airlines, it’s easier to make that leap.” — Brian Norris
CAT: We heard some attendees at this spring’s EFB Users Forum talking about application overload. Is this a pain point in your experience? Are you looking for consolidation?
Brian Norris: Yes, we are looking to consolidate a few of the apps because I look at each app as a data stream. Then it’s a matter of which data streams we consolidate into one application, so I don’t have to open up and manage multiple apps. We’re doing a little bit of this already.
CAT: Are there any big trends that you anticipate in the EFBs you see coming in five to ten years?
Brian Norris: Many airlines do not have airborne Wi-Fi yet. As the satellites in the Wi-Fi providers get more efficient, less expensive, and included on more airlines, it’s easier to make that leap. When you’re looking at investing millions of dollars in a Wi-Fi system, it’s hard for some people to get over that obstacle.
It’s just like getting free Wi-Fi when you’re traveling. Fifteen years ago, it wasn’t that much, but now it’s almost a given, right? Airborne Wi-Fi to the crews is what’s going to come. We’re experiencing it currently, but the rest of the world will be connected.
The next thing coming down the line is going to be fewer manual communications and more direct communications. It’s like controller–pilot data link communications (CPDLC). You’re communicating with ATC through different methods instead of all voice.
Right now, we are ingesting ATC data on the flight deck/aircraft. It would be great to be able to “send” specific data back to ATC. If I can transmit my aircraft capability to ATC, then ATC proactively knows what my aircraft is capable of flying.
CAT: You’re an organizer and major proponent for the EFB Users Forum. Why is that event so important? Why is this such an important event for the aviation and aerospace industry?
“The EFB Users Forum fosters innovation; this event allows us to think of what’s possible since we have carriers represented of all experiences.” — Brian Norris
Brian Norris: The EFB Users Forum fosters innovation; this event allows us to think of what’s possible since we have carriers represented of all experiences. We have a carrier that is already innovating and leading the way. Several of us are on the tip of the spear of doing all the advanced methods; then the vendors discover something else, so we start trading information.
Pilots are pilots, and flight attendants are flight attendants — we all have a mission to fly the airplane most efficiently from point A to point B. The EFB Users Forum is a great way to share information with each other to fulfill this mission.
No one is going to envision everything on their own. A new startup attends the Electronic Flight Bag Users Form and presents a new solution we had not conceptualized. Then we brainstorm how this concept can come to fruition.
We all have this collaborative spirit of how to make aviation safer, more efficient, and more sustainable and how to do so in an economically sound manner. We all start trading that information to help each other achieve our ultimate goal.