Jumpseat: My New Antique
I gazed at the pile of Jepp binders that were scattered across my desk: United States, Europe, Latin America, Pacific, Far East, 777 ops manual, company manual. I sighed with a wary smile.
Was it possible that I would never again have to clack open metal rings and replace pages upon pages of approach plates with new revisions? Would I never again be faced with the acrobatic juggling act of opening the last index and spilling out the binder’s entire contents?
I had just removed all of the 10-1 terminal chart foldout pages and placed them in a separate binder. Other than the appropriate division high/low en route charts, that was all I was required to carry — well, except for our emergency procedures manual. A thin electronic tablet would take the place of everything else.
I peered into my open flight kit bag: What had once been a jammed display of organizational anal-retentiveness now appeared to be a haphazard storage container. It was cavernous. Do I try to consolidate the remnants into my overnight bag and give my old friend a rest? Naw, I’m just not ready to completely cut the cord. Besides, now I’ll have more room for my hot sauce.
The evolution that resulted in the tablet entering the flight deck of my airline began a little more than six years ago. The EFB (electronic flight bag) concept had already become part of the vernacular in the GA world. Corporate flight departments had begun integrating some form of EFB into their operations either through a laptop computer or directly into the installed equipment on board their sophisticated jets. Companies like Garmin and Avidyne were designing EFBs into new-generation airplane production or offering aftermarket installations for older airplanes.
The FAA developed requirements for EFBs. The agency divides the devices into classes. A Class I device is strictly portable, as in a laptop or electronic tablet. A Class II device is portable also but requires a specific mounting and/or interface connection, usually to aircraft power. A Class III device is a permanent installation, integrated with aircraft design. A 787 is a good example. The 787’s EFB is installed at both pilot positions as standard equipment.
In order for an airline to utilize a given class of EFB, it has to be approved through the carrier’s ops specs. Once the testing process proves successful, usually after a six-month trial period, the approval is granted. For an airline fleet with hundreds of airplanes, supplying EFBs can be an expensive proposition.
Initially, the expense aspect for our airline was already covered. Hank Puteck, one of our astute pilots with a computer science background, realized that, like me, most of my colleagues traveled to work with their own personal laptops. He converted our entire 777 operating manual into PDF form. He presented the PDF version of the manual to our then VP of flight. Why not make all reference manuals available for electronic download to those pilots who choose the option? Hank was given the green light as the project manager. The FAA approved almost immediately. The caveats were that a spare battery was required, the laptop operating system must be compatible, and the hard drive must have a given minimum storage capacity.
In addition, use of the EFB was only allowed on the ground if the aircraft was not taxiing. And if the airplane was taxiing, only a crew member in a nonflying seat could operate the EFB. In flight, the EFB could not be used below 10,000 feet — the sterile period for all operations. It was all common-sense stuff.
An example for use of the EFB: Our MEL (minimum equipment list) for any given airplane is the size of an average English dictionary. It’s cumbersome to carry. When the EFB was approved, the ability to tap the cursor on an index page number and have the appropriate MEL item instantly appear brought smiles.