Don't let EFBs own your cockpit

These PEDs were not meant to replace flightdeck equipment or to supersede good pilot judgement.

By Peter Berendsen
ATP/CFII. Boeing 747, MD11

Class 2 EFB installation on Boeing 747-8i. In this application, the operator-provided display is installed to the right of the senior FO.

Enroute from FRA (Frankfurt, Germany) to EZE (Buenos Aires, Argentina) you see a lot of water if your route departs the European continent at Cape Finisterre at the northwestern corner of Spain. It's around midnight as you head out into a beautiful night sky over the Atlantic. As you fly southwest to pass west of Madeira and east of the Azores islands, you slowly turn towards the equator.

There is not a lot of traffic and just occasional contact with ATC via CPDLC or HF. Nothing disturbs the darkness in your properly dimmed flightdeck except occasional lighting from a CB on the horizon and the 2 bright rectangles of your electronic flight bag (EFB) displays that cannot be dimmed down any further. Switching to night mode darkens the colors but doesn't really the reduce brightness. So you either accept the fact that your eyes do not get the chance to properly adapt to the darkness or you turn the display off and miss the information it provides.

A gong sounds. A CPDLC message is received from Santa Maria ATC with an extensive rerouting. The new clearance also involves the airspaces of Piarco (oceanic airspace East of Barbados to almost 30W) and Cayenne (oceanic airspace north of South America) but you don't know that yet. There's no paper chart on board because the operations department of your airline justified the substantial cost for the EFB system with future savings from no longer having to print or purchase paper documents.

So you try to find the waypoints of your reroute using only the EFB. Although a zoomed-out level gives you a decent overview of the ocean, intersections are only partially displayed as black triangles without names.

If you zoom in to show detailed information such as intersection names, you lose the bigger context because you have no useable location reference on the small screen. You don't really know where on this big body of water that navigational point is, and basically only see a light blue area depicting water and an intersection with a name in the middle of it. That's all.

After a lot of searching and trying, you and your FO finally find the waypoints and are able to confirm and accept the clearance with ATC. But the experience leaves you wondering – why would a system with such deficiencies in information display, processing, reliability and ergonomics be certified in a Boeing 747-8i that carries over 400 passengers? And maybe you start to do some research during your layover in the hotel in Buenos Aires. If you do, you will find out some astonishing facts.

Important information on EFBs

The EFB in its entirety is not certified at all, at least not under Part 25 like all other equipment are certified on an air transport aircraft. The installation itself is certified to withstand the G-forces of a crash, just like your seat or the cup holder. But the inner workings of the EFB (software, etc) are not certified if you operate with a Class 2 EFB – as most pilots do.

An operational approval by the primary inspector of your outfit is sufficient.
There are 2 FAA circulars that contain important information on EFBs: AC 120-76C, Guidelines for the Certification, Airworthiness, and Operational Use of Electronic Flight Bags, dated 5/9/14; and AC 91-78, Use of Class 1 or Class 2 Electronic Flight Bag, dated 07/20/07.

These circulars contain important information and distinctions regarding EFBs that each professional pilot should be familiar with. This is because EFBs should always be used with a degree of caution. They're not part of and should never be confused with regular cockpit flight instrumentation such as a PFD, ND or FMS, which undergo a rigorous certification process before being installed in production transport aircraft.

FAA lists 3 classes of EFB hardware

Class 2 EFB on the captain side in a Boeing 747-8i cockpit. A multitude of operational information can be found on the display. A good display should have excellent dimming and night use characteristics to not impair night vision.

Class 1 EFB hardware includes computers based on portable commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment considered to be portable electronic devices (PED) with no FAA design, production or installation approval for the device and its internal components. Class 1 EFBs are not mounted to the aircraft, connected to aircraft systems for data, or connected to a dedicated aircraft power supply, they may only be temporarily connected to an existing aircraft power supply for battery recharging.

Class 1 EFBs that have applications for aeronautical charts, approach charts, or an electronic checklist (ECL) must be appropriately secured and viewable during critical phases of flight and must not interfere with flight control movement. Portable Class 1 EFB components are not considered to be part of aircraft type design; ie, not in the aircraft type certificate (TC) or supplemental type certificate (STC). This could be an iPad that you carry with you and clip into a bracket on the flightdeck.

Class 2 EFB hardware includes portable COTS-based computers considered to be PEDs with no FAA design, production or installation approval for the device and its internal components. Class 2 EFBs are typically mounted. They must be capable of being easily removed from or attached to their mounts by flightcrew personnel. Class 2 EFBs can be temporarily connected to an existing aircraft power supply for battery recharging.

They may connect to aircraft power, data ports (wired or wireless), or installed antennas – provided those connections are installed in accordance with AC 20-173. Important: Portable Class 2 EFB components are not considered to be part of aircraft type design; ie, not in the aircraft TC or STC.

Class 3 EFB hardware are those instruments installed in accordance with applicable airworthiness regulations. These are the EFBs that manufacturers offer as part of certified cockpit instrumentation. They are fully integrated into the aircraft design and fulfill all certification requirements including reliability, data integrity and seamless integration into the ergonomic philosophy of the flightdeck.

Now you might expect that most commercial and airline operators would go for a class 3 EFB in order to achieve the same level of reliability and safety that pilots are accustomed to in the other equipment they work with. But often this is not the case. The reason is the perceived benefit of being able to have your own software written and installed on class 1 and 2 EFBs as aircraft operators transition to paperless cockpits.


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