Aviation: To EFB or not to EFB that is the question

Electronic Flight Bags (EFB) have been around since the early 1990’s, starting out as simple carry on laptops. Today’s new generation of aircraft, Boeing Dreamliner B787, Airbus A380 and A350 have a more modern touch screen EFB and comes as a standard fit.

For an airline to operate EFB’s effectively, all EFB’s need to be controlled centrally, ensuring information stored on devices is concurrent with ground based support systems. Existing legacy ground based paper systems would require a facelift for this to happen and pilots need to be trained in any new hardware and software.

A particular problem for airline IT departments is the authentication of users on EFB devices and how this can be maintained.

If we consider EFB’s that are available today, generally they have a similar look and feel, however each user interface is different, this ties an airline down to one vendor or opptionaly introduces costly training and regulatory requirements to support a mixture of EFB’s vendors.

An airlines dilemma to EFB or not to EFB comes down to a business case, EFB’s are very costly to purchase, retrofit and maintain. For many airlines these costs do not stack up to any benefits identified, making any business case very difficult to justify.

Could there be an alternative EFB that is relatively cheaper to purchase and maintain compared with the traditional devices we know today!!

In my opinion there is …. the Apple iPAD, add a collaboration tool such as Google Apps …. and voilà …. we have an EFB that is easier to maintain and cost-effective to run.

Here are some benefits:

  • Cost savings – iPAD is considerably cheaper than a traditional EFB, Web-based messaging and collaboration apps require no airline hardware or software (except a browser) and need minimal administration, creating time and cost savings.
  • Full administrative and data control – Administrators can customise web-based apps to meet their technical, branding and business requirements.
  • User Authentication – Single sign-on API connects Web-based Apps to an airlines existing authentication system.
  • Information security and compliance – Airline’s critical information will be safe and secure.
  • Airline Techlog applications could run and transmit in real-time.
  • Give the same device to ground based engineers and they have access to the same data as the pilot even if they are in different parts of the world.

Airline ground based operations staff would publish information for each individual flight into the cloud and if required, update at any point in time, even during a flight.

Assume some internet connection is available, either on or off the aircraft and any pilot issued with a iPAD (instead of a ‘Flight Bag’) could realistically copy flight information, such as NOTAM’s MET data, airport maps etc. onto their device.

The introduction of the iPAD and cloud computing has provided a new way of working for many industries, can we ignore this evolution in aviation …. yes we can, but its going to be expensive!!

If your unconvinced check out these links:

  1. ForeFlight – Preflight intelligence
  2. Using an iPAD as an ESB

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eEnabled Aircraft So Whats the Difference

An eEnabled aircraft is an aircraft that has one or more IT networks on board and requires a connection to a ground based network for its operation.

Both the A380 and B787 are classed as eEnabled aircraft and their respective airframers have heralded that eEnabled aircraft will provide opportunities for airlines to operate aircraft more effectively.

For this to become a reality, the main airline challenge is the successful uploading/downloading of aircraft information. This has to be carried out securely and with the confidence that information will be delivered without any external interference.

Consider the diagram’s below, traditionally aircraft security was contained physically on board with no major external interfaces. With the introduction of eEnabled aircraft, you can see this has opened up multiple channel’s of communications with several external IT networks, each having their own independent IT security.

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IT Security and infrastructure are key to the successful operation of these new aircraft and for the first time, the regulatory meaning of  ‘Airworthiness’ now includes the IT networks involved in the servicing of the aircraft.

Assume one of these eEnabled channels had been proven to be weak. Potentially, because IT Security is only as strong as its weakest link, we could assume all communication channels had been compromised.

Airframers have put a lot of effort considering these types of scenarios and provde tools to protect the aircraft.  Airlines however have to consider not just the successful operation of new eEnabled aircraft but the wider protection of their existing IT network operations.

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BA New Seat Design & IFE on Boeing 777-300ER

This first of six new British Airways Boeing 777-300ER has onboard the airlines latest design concepts and new inflight entertainment system from Thales.

I had the pleasure to be onboard Flight No. BA9178C which left and returned to Heathrow on 26th Aug 2010

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The aircraft took off on time at 15:15 from Terminal 5 Heathrow and conducted a four hour test flight over the North Sea.

In the new ‘World Traveller’ cabin is the latest Thales in-flight entertainment, including:

  • a video touch screen that is 35 per cent larger than the current screen
  • a greater choice of movies, television and music
  • a USB and RCA combo port, enabling personal electronic devices to connect with the in-flight entertainment system
  • an in-seat power socket to power devices throughout the flight

Additionally in the new ‘World Traveller Plus’ cabin the Thales in-flight entertainment has:

  • a video touch screen that is 60 per cent larger than the current screen
  • two USB ports and an RCA port.

British Airways will operate this first aircraft between Chicargo, Dubai, Delhi and Mumbai

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Pass Your iPhone When Boarding Sir

As the security line got smaller, I did think to myself, ‘is this really going to work’, looking around I was the only person clutching my iPhone instead of a boarding pass. This British Airways app has to work or this seasoned traveller is going to get some strange looks from the long queue of puzzled passengers behind.
Looking back along the queue my seasoned traveller persona was suddenly embellished, as I heard the words “Enjoy your flight Sir” coming from the security guard as he handed back by iPhone.

This app is very simple to use and displays the correct boarding pass with out searching, using the checkin was simple too and my persona went up a notch as it allowed me to change my seat to 1A.

Keep an eye on the battery power, if your flight is delayed you might have to recharge before handing over your iPhone again to ground staff at the boarding gate.

A useful hint If running low on power, switch Data roaming, 3G and WiFi off located in iPhone settings, this should help.

At the boarding gate I experienced how new this technology actually is. “Your aircraft is now ready for boarding, please have your boarding pass ready and switch off all mobile phones”.

No … this cant be right … what about my well maintained persona .
Well, as it turned out I did get a smile when the embarrassed lady returned my iPhone “Enjoy your flight sir”.
I could now board the aircraft with a sky high persona.
Not quite, as the flight attendant returned my iPhone, she said “That’s the second iPhone boarding pass on this flight”!!!

Well the iPhone App did work, so thanks British Airways, but just like the iPhone, before you know it everyone will have one.

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Did A Software Virus Contribute To Fatal Air Crash

Preliminary investigation into the 2008 crash of Spanair Flight 5022, released in August 2009 by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, states that the probable cause of the crash was the flight crew’s failure to ensure that the plane’s flaps and slats were extended for takeoff.

Its early days to be sure but from what is leaking out in the media ( Spanish newspaper El Pais) it being reported that malware may have been a contributed to the accident.

An internal Spanair report indicated that a central computer system used to monitor aircraft problems had been infected with malware, according to El Pais. The infected computer system, located at the airline’s HQ in Palma de Mallorca, failed to detect several technical problems with the airplane.

In a previous article ‘A Case For Aircraft Security’ I emphasised the importance of IT Security in the operation of modern aircraft. If the final investigation due later this year in December confirms that a trojan was a contributor to the accident it will draw attention to the more advanced software systems being used in the operation of the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380.

When it comes to ‘IT/Aircraft Security’ airlines are ultimately responsible and this event will have airlines around the world re-evaluating their operational processes. For those airlines flying or have orders for the B787 or A380 they must focus on this tragic event, even if malware took little or no part in the accident the fact that it is being considered, highlights what is possible as aircraft evolve into mobile ‘IT networks’.

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First Class All The Way

I experienced British Airways new first class product this week (Not in the air unfortunately), it has been installed on one Boeing 777 so far, taking passengers between London Heathrow and Chicago O’Hare.
This new first cabin features personal wardrobe, 60 percent wider “lay-flat” bed, leather-bound table, 15-inch IFE screen, USB port, RCA jack, noise-canceling headsets and personal electronic blinds along with mood lighting.

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The design of the cabin is inspired by famous UK motoring brands Aston Martin and Jaguar

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IFE: iPad Flight Entertainment

Image from Apples Website

Just read this article ‘Apple iPad could revolutionise travel guides and inflight entertainment’ .

I suddenly had a vision of passengers bringing on board their own entertainment tailored to their own preferences, not a bad vision considering the considerable investment made by operators into the IFE industry.

Just imagine there would be no installation/maintenance of cable to every cabin seat, expensive hardware failure, happy passengers playing Monopoly, Scrabble etc via WiFi, not forgetting access to operators website to update/up sell products such as Car hire, Hotels, Duty Free etc.

Operators would become ISP’s ….. everybody’s happy, could this be a vision of the future ?

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