Tag Archives: Dreamliner

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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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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Dream Start For Boeings 787 First Flight

It was a wonderful experience watching the maiden flight of Boeings 787 Dreamliner as it was broadcast live via Boeing’s webcast.

Seeing the vast Everett buildings brought back memories of my visit there in April 2008. Particularly the enormous size of the buildings where the aircraft are constructed.

B787 Production Everett April 2008

During my time in Seattle I had the opportunity to view the B787 flight simulator, not then in operation, but did give an impressive overview of the flight deck, which I can only described as ‘a visit to the command centre of the USS Enterprise’. Seeing the head-up display (HUD) in a commercial aircraft was a first for me and I was also impressed by the large electronic flight bag (EFB) display.

However now the Dreamliners first flight is over, both Boeing and its Airline customers can focus on the successful operation of the aircraft. Unlike any other aircraft the 787 is unique in its operation. For year’s airlines have operated aircraft safely and securely with tried and tested processes that are applied to new aircraft types as and when they have arrived. Not so for the 787, this aircraft (Also the Airbus A380) is heavily dependant on the digital transfer of information to and from the aircraft.

Ok, you might say ‘what’s the big deal in this day and age, we move data around all the time!!’. Well yes we do but that’s mainly with ground-based nodes on a wide area network. When you have a network of users (350+) on an IT network node that is sometimes disconnected and moves around the world at 35,000 feet you have a different proposition.

For the ground based IT experts this introduces a new set of challenges and for the established aircraft technicians in engineering this introduces challenges of a different kind. Both groups of experts will come from different angles when dealing with connectivity and security, as they will focus on how to secure their independent issues. However they must both look to the horizon to see potential looming regulation that will challenge the most experienced experts to get it right in an operational environment. Getting it wrong may impact the air worthiness of the operation.

Boeings accomplishment of the Dreamliners first flight has to be applauded, I’m sure all those employees seen on the webcast were rightfully proud of their achievements.

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New Generation Aircraft Challenges

Over the last decade commercial aviation has been engaged in a major transition towards a ‘digital aircraft’. With the next generation of aircraft (A380, A350 & B787), the industry is moving towards the ‘connected aircraft’ or ‘eEnabled aircraft’ This evolution is propelled by the need for increased efficiency and interoperability at a reduced overall operational cost.

In the past, specialized avionic systems provided predictable interactions with the aircraft, the introduction of commercially available ‘off-the-shelf’ hardware and software components has expanded the scope for aircraft interactivity. To maintain the predictability and security of the aircraft, the new systems have safeguards built in, to interoperate without unintended consequences. The systems design and certification onboard the aircraft are handled by the airframe and equipment manufacturers.

However this new generation of eEnabled aircraft has extensive requirements for external interaction. Here lies the greatest challenges. Whether it is aircraft systems transferring data to a ground station, or a passenger in the aircraft accessing a service using the Internet, great care has to be taken to ensure that only legitimate communication or ‘information transfer’ is occurring.

Check this link out for an interesting debate by Bruce Schneier in this area.

Airlines must have the ability to identify individual components, to a high level of assurance, this is important for the security of the aircraft and its operating environment. This is also true for the identities of the people that interact within the aircraft environment, such as pilots, cabin crew, mechanics, and other airline employees. Additionally, it is important to verify the integrity and the origin of data (including software) loaded onto the aircraft.

Architectural design challenges faced by airlines, are to provide a secure, reliable, flexible and adaptable ground based IT environment that will grow with the business and its operational requirements.

As eEnabled aircraft are added to airline fleets verifying the integrity and origin of data flows will become an ever-increasing challenge for airlines. A particular problem for airlines that operate both Airbus and Boeing ‘connected aircraft’, would be, how to create common processes, workflows and data feeds for the different fleets, that will require updating in many different worldwide locations and communication channels.

This new aircraft evolution will bring lots of challenges and opportunities for airlines but providing the right ‘Network Architecture’ foundation will be key to supporting the airline operation of the next generation aircraft.

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