The Benefits of the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB)

efbFor many pilots, the idea of an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) is the stuff that dreams are made of (dreams geared towards reducing job-related paperwork that is). As much as we all love flying we hate the paperwork. Unfortunately paperwork is a necessary part of our job. The good news is that with the advances in technology and newly certified products, some visionary airlines have realized the vision of a paperless cockpit and are saving money in the process.

Getting rid of the paper maintenance logbook is particularly difficult because it’s so data-entry centric. Unlike charts in which information is only referenced, the maintenance logbook is constantly being updated by pilots as well as by maintenance. It’s the one place where Flight Operations and Maintenance Operations use the same paperwork, which oh by the way just happens to be the official maintenance record that’s auditable by the regulatory authorities. No page can be lost or misplaced which is one reason why all log pages are serialized. The airline must keep logbook entries for the life of an aircraft, yet we immediately dump old charts the day they expire. Big difference!The aircraft maintenance logbook is arguably the most important paperwork in an airline. Without it and its proper entries no aircraft can push back from a gate. Some have said that the paper maintenance logbook is so critical and so integrally used by Flight Operations and Maintenance Operations that cockpits may never be able to get rid of it.

But what if we could get rid of the paper tech log? What if we could record maintenance logbook entries electronically as they happen so as to transmit them to maintenance in realtime where Maintenance Operations could know about our problem soon after we do, while our aircraft was still airborne? What if at the press of a button maintenance could immediately correlate our reported problem with prior occurrences and prior fixes? What if they had instant and total history of our problem both for this aircraft and fleet wide? They would have the needed decision support information to make the correct preparations before we land, whereupon they could meet our aircraft with the right part, personnel and plan to fix the problem before the next flight. Fewer maintenance delays, cancellations, and deferrals would result. Needless to say this would greatly help the bottom line (and did we mention reducing cockpit paperwork).

What if you could report problems by always using the correct fault reporting codes where finding the correct code required only a touch or two on a touchscreen glass display? When you enter text, what if you had an intelligent keyboard that would always anticipate your next word, so at the touch of the glass you could enter full words instead of typing letters?

This may seem like something for the future, but KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is live using all the above today. They recently became the first airline to receive regulatory authority final Authorization for Paperless Use of an electronic maintenance logbook (allowing electronic use without paper backup) for connected EFB (that’s EFB that intelligently talk to your aircraft data busses and can communicate in real time with the ground both directions). Only Class II or III EFB can be connected to aircraft systems and either class will support all the above. Class I could still work, but since it can’t be connected to aircraft systems and can’t communicate while airborne you lose some of the capabilities and resulting benefits.

KLM chose efbTechLogs™ software from Albuquerque based Ultramain Systems for their EFB Class III equipped 777-300ER fleet – the first fleet they have implemented. KLM received final Authorization for Paperless Use from a regulatory authority on November 1, 2008 – an aviation first!

Not only is it now easier and quicker for their pilots to make log entries, but the data is more accurate, additionally transcription errors from data entry clerks struggling to enter hard-to-read handwriting are gone forever. Pilots choosing the wrong fault code, or not entering a fault code because it’s too hard to find is a thing of the past. Does anyone know the FRM code for a cockpit printer?

Additional benefits of an electronic maintenance logbook are evident in that it provides “the handshake between Flight Operations and Maintenance.” With the EFB, the aircraft is now “connected” with the ground. Because Maintenance now has the ability to receive advanced knowledge of a problem, they can meet the aircraft upon arrival prepared with the parts, tools and correctly authorized manpower sufficient to fix many problems during the gate turn instead of having to take a maintenance delay or defer the item because of insufficient time to demand spares and get the correct maintenance personnel to the aircraft.

Three of the biggest obstacles to airlines profitability are gate delays, cancellations and deferrals. Even the latter can ground an aircraft due to an expired MEL (or prohibit a subsequent deferral that would allow the flight to proceed). All of these can be greatly reduced by taking advantage of this new technology.

Along with efbTechLogs comes a Ground System which among other things is the interface between the onboard software and the airlines’ existing legacy maintenance tracking system. It also becomes the official auditable archive for maintenance records. It electronically replaces your warehouse of paper tech logs. So not only does the cockpit become paperless, the entire system is freed from the constraints and expense of paper.

To ensure the onboard software meshes with other EFB software on the flight deck efbTechLogs can use any of a number of different Human Computer Interfaces or HCI, which is the way the software looks to the user. This means that pilots flying a Boeing aircraft can have a consistent Boeing look and feel while pilots flying Airbus or Bombardier aircraft can have completely different looking software, or not, all sharing the same functionality. Maintenance Operations has only one look and feel for maintenance personnel, which means they do not have to use different software to work on different fleet types. Likewise, the Cabin application has only one look and feel making it easier for cabin crew who work on different aircraft types to be comfortable using the software for their cabin write-ups.

The great thing is that this technology is no longer just a wish for the thousands of pilots who are lugging around a leather flight bag filled with paper. It’s real, it’s proven and it’s available now. Getting management to implement EFBs requires a solid cost justification and a great boost to this comes from the benefits of using an electronic tech log. Spread the word.

Oh by the way, KLM also went live with eReporting allowing electronic touchscreen glass ASR and IFR reporting – it’s all done on the EFB in flight. No more after flight reports. How cool is that?

Article by David B. Abbott
Director of Business Development
Ultramain Systems, Inc.