Connected EFB Opens the Door for Improved Turbulence Anticipation

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Turbulence

Imagine being on a flight, and you finally begin to drift off to sleep after hours of trying. Then out of nowhere, the plane begins to shake, people in the aisle lose their balance, your neighbor’s tray spills water on your lap, and you abruptly wake up with your heart pounding. The pilot confidently lets everyone know the aircraft is experiencing turbulence to help assuage the fears of the passengers. But even confident reassurances from the cockpit can’t make up for the interrupted naps of passengers whose knuckles are still white from grasping their armrests in sheer panic.

This situation is still all too real – but it might not have to be as new technologies and connectivity make their way into the cockpit.

Turbulence is not only scary, but it is also dangerous for the pilot, aircrew, and passengers. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in nonfatal accidents, in-flight turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants. Additionally, turbulence can cost the major airline millions of dollars per year in fuel, maintenance, crew safety, passenger safety, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Technologies like SkyPath help mitigate these issues through application that can be added to pilots’ Electronic Flight Books (EFBs). This application allows pilots to log where they are experiencing turbulence and alert other pilots flying through the area, similar to Waze for drivers. Pilots can then either inform passengers in advance about upcoming turbulence or avoid it altogether.

During the recent EFB Users Summit, Connected Aviation Today sat down with Maya Shpak, CEO of SkyPath, to discuss aircraft turbulence and how SkyPath is paving the way to help make planes safer and more efficient.

Connected Aviation Today (CAT):  How big of an issue is turbulence for the airline industry? What challenges and problems does it create for the airlines?

Maya Shpak: Turbulence influences airline costs in five key areas – fuel, maintenance, crew safety, passenger safety, and GHG emissions. Related fuel and maintenance can cost a major airline $17 million a year.

What’s worse, there are no adequate tools today that accurately report and predict turbulence. Meteorological forecasts, for example, are inaccurate in 85 percent of cases, and weather radar cannot detect Clear Air Turbulence (CAT).

“Turbulence-related fuel and maintenance can cost a major airline $17 million a year.” — Maya Shpak

CAT: Historically, have airlines been able to identify areas where there could be heavy turbulence? Have they been able to communicate where and when it might occur to flight crews?

Maya Shpak: Pilot reports of turbulence via Air Traffic Control (ATC) are subjective, sporadic, and have limited contribution to data coverage. As a result, pilots do not use the most available tools in practice.

CAT: What could flight crews do with more accurate turbulence warnings? Could it be avoided? Could injuries and passenger discomfort be reduced?

Maya Shpak: To date, there has been no ground or airborne sensor that can detect Clear Air Turbulence (CAT).  been searching for a tool to answer questions like: Where does the turbulence start/end? What is its severity level? How does it affect other flight levels? Answering these questions helps them protect themselves and their passengers?

SkyPath does just that.

SkyPath is a tactical tool that serves as the first source of reliable and accurate alerts regarding the location and severity of turbulence. Pilots using SkyPath can either turn the seatbelt sign on before a turbulence event or avoid it altogether by requesting an alternative route from ATC.

This level of accuracy has precise results, including reduced injuries, stress, discomfort, and cost savings. In fact, in a 6-month due diligence exercise by one of the major airlines on SkyPath, compared to other turbulence solutions, SkyPath outperformed all, detecting turbulence when others did not.

In a real-life example of SkyPath in action, the captain announced, “The area ahead of us shows turbulence. I will turn on the seatbelt sign for about 5 minutes.” Without SkyPath, the aircraft would have encountered turbulence while passengers and crew members were not prepared.

CAT: How does SkyPath’s solution help airlines with their turbulence issue? What does it enable airlines and flight crews to do?

Maya Shpak: SkyPath is a unique crowdsourcing platform based on a patented algorithm that listens to iPad accelerometers, accurately detects turbulence, and alerts pilots and ground operation services regarding upcoming encounters, all in real-time.

“SkyPath is a double win – you get the highest resolution data in the industry, and you can deploy it with the flick of a software switch. This program is the greatest, fastest, and simplest solution for the airline.” — Maya Shpak

This program enables airlines and crew members to ensure the safety of passengers and crew and enhance operational efficiency.

CAT: Is SkyPath’s data only available via the app, or could the data be integrated into another solution or platform – such as an Electronic Flight Folder (EFF)? If so, how does SkyPath enable this? 

Maya Shpak: SkyPath is an ecosystem and data service. In addition to the native application and web interface, SkyPath provides an integration kit, which other solutions, such as EFB/EFF applications and other systems, can easily integrate.

The central concept of a crowdsourcing network is that every EFB becomes both a turbulence sensor and a consumer of the accurate data layer. This fundamental concept contributes to the exponential growth and scale of SkyPath.

SkyPath also provides data APIs that support flight planning and optimization tools.

CAT: Is connectivity in the cockpit necessary to optimize applications like SkyPath? Are all airlines today making this connectivity available in the cockpit?

Maya Shpak: SkyPath can provide excellent turbulence awareness even without connectivity, especially when you consider that turbulence data is valid for 2-3 hours – based on 130M annual turbulence reports. Even with no connectivity in the cockpit, SkyPath can allow pilots to download turbulence data before takeoff, download the data while continuously collecting and storing new data offline. Upon connecting to Wi-Fi, the turbulence data automatically syncs within just a few seconds.

The bottom line is that the SkyPath is highly relevant for domestic flights, even without Wi-Fi.

CAT: You recently attended the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) Users Forum in Annapolis. Were there any exciting new applications, features, or capabilities for EFBs that you learned about at the show?

“There is a common understanding in the industry that connectivity, slowly becoming a commodity, combined with crowd wisdom can reduce an airline’s costs while enhancing its capabilities and safety.” — Maya Shpak

Maya Shpak: The key trends from the recent EFB Users Forum were connectivity and integrated EFBs. There is a common understanding in the industry that connectivity, which is slowly becoming a commodity, combined with crowd wisdom can reduce an airline’s costs while enhancing its capabilities and safety.

If you want to learn more about connectivity in the cockpit, CLICK HERE, If you would like to learn more about SkyPath, CLICK HERE.

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