So what is the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) all about? Remember dragging a handful of heavy manuals, flight plans and charts back and forth from the crew room to your office? Don’t we all miss those black leather pilot bags walking down towards the gate? No, you say, it was such a great workout? Well, leave it to the dumbells at the gym and save the back problems. There are, however, many other benefits with the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) and why it should be standard for every pilot.
The messy one
The year was 1990 and I was an instrument flying instructor in the great state of Florida. This particular day I was out on an IFR cross-country together with Steve, a student that I took over from another instructor at the flight school. Steve was an okay pilot and he mostly managed to fly coordinated and time the procedure turns correctly!
However, he was a total mess. He was completely unstructured and disorganized. We had just left Jacksonville after a low approach. Prior to that, we had done an approach into Daytona and were then on our way southbound to Sanford. By then, the cockpit of the Cessna 172 looked like a war zone. Papers were everywhere, mixed up with approach plates and IFR charts. I did my best to try and get him to get some organization in his mess. However, every time he tried to get some order, he lost his attention to the flying. His heading and altitude went completely out of control. I started to understand why my instructor colleague was so eager to give me this student. He was hopeless!
The trick of being a good IFR pilot is the management and organization of all the papers that you need. In other words, good cockpit discipline. Steve was really a lost cause! I realized that some people just couldn’t deal with papers and keep things organized. It didn’t matter how good your pilot skills were. Unless you could handle the papers, approach plates and charts, you were not going to make it.
Maybe Star Trek showed the way
The night before, CBS had just aired another episode of my favourite TV show, Star Trek, The Next Generation. This show was amazing! All the crew members on the Starship Enterprise walked around with a little electronic pad. This pad gave them access to all the information they ever needed to handle their duties as a Starship Officer.
On Enterprise, the crew didn’t need papers or manuals to fly all across the galaxy. After the messy flight with Steve, I started to daydream about this device. Imagining how an ordinary day would look like minus the papers, approach plates, flight plans, and charts we had in the cockpit. Instead, everything was structured, organized and stored in this electronic pad. I was hoping that this little electronic flight device could be real in our galaxy so people like Steve could, somehow, be able to fly. Steve would just have to learn basic cockpit organizational skills…
Unfortunately, Steve is not the only messy pilot I’ve encountered. A few years later, I flew with a first officer that reminded me of my old student, Steve. There were approach plates, fuel receipts and company flight plans all over the flight deck and dashboard. I sighed and slowly shook my head, dreaming about a paperless flight deck. Even if it was something that I probably wouldn’t see during my carrier.
Apple took the first bite
Then things happened pretty quickly. Apple produced something that, to a certain extent, reminded me of the Star Trek pad. I got excited and started to realize that, at least in theory, a paperless flight deck would be a possibility.
Another few years went by and, one day, the airline I was working for installed Apple devices with the Electronic Flight Bags in the aircraft. All the information we could get in this device was fantastic! For once we didn’t have to carry our big pilot bags with tons of manuals, charts and approach charts.
Walking from the crew room to the aircraft had become so much easier. With light steps, we could now move around without being burdened by the extra weight of all the manuals. Another joy was that we didn’t have to do any revisions to the manuals any more.
Before EFB was introduced, we got revisions once a week and it was a tedious task taking out old plates and replacing them with the new ones!
Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) is here to stay
The Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) held other advantages like apps for computing performance calculation, establishing Holdover Time, writing occurrence reports, etc. Basically, every tool needed to manage the flight was right there, accessible with a few easy swipes of your fingertips. The future had finally arrived! I felt like a crew member on the Starship Enterprise in the Star Trek universe.
The airline was also excited by the new and efficient ways that the Electronic Flight Bag could provide. As pilots, we didn’t get much training in the new device. The management assumed that everyone knew how to operate an iPad. This was, unfortunately, a mistake. Yes, the device in itself is very easy to use, even a three-year-old can grasp the idea of how to move their fingers over the screen to make things happen. However, all the different apps that the airline operation team had crammed into the EFB took some time to learn and understand. It was a challenge to discover how and where to access all the stored information.
Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) requires training
The Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) is a wonderful and fantastic tool but don’t for a second think that you don’t need training and skills to use it. Scandlearn has made a fantastic upgrade on this course which I think requires all the training you need. Check out the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) Training here.
The EFB is a great tool but, like any other tool, training is a necessity. Understanding the functions of all the apps, access this information and know-how to use it in a timely manner is crucial for safety. Time might not be something you have when you need to access something after an abnormal situation in the air or after a go-around swiftly changes to a different chart or plate. You need to know your EFB!
In addition, you also need good organizational skills. Maybe not the same analogue organizational skills you needed in the past to keep track of all your manuals. However, it’s a different kind of mental organizational skill; an organizational skill that will paint out a mental structure of files and apps in your EFB. To find information in the OM-A was quite easy in the past when you had a big thick manual that you were trained to quickly find information in. It takes a different set of skills to search and find the right information in the digital world of EFB
Learn how to navigate in Electronic Flight Bag
In my experience, young first officers that have grown up in the digital age manage this better than many older captains. It is like the younger generation of pilots have their brains wired to understand the digital structures of digital information in a different and more efficient way than many older pilots.
I once heard a young first officer, with a little bit of a condescending tone, talk about her captains action during a ramp check from the authority. The inspector asked the crew to see the ship documentation, airworthiness certificate, insurance papers etc. All of these papers were, naturally, included in the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB). The captain had no idea how to find the files but, of course, he didn’t want to lose face in front of the inspector so he just asked the first officer to “find the documentation in the EFB for the inspector so I can finish up our parking checklist”. At least he knew that the information was somewhere in the device but he couldn’t, for the life of him, figure out where. There’s a vast amount of information in the EFB which made it difficult for him to locate what the inspector wanted to see.
In this new world of the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), there have been many big improvements in comparison to how it used to be. New demands have arisen. You basically have everything you need, and then some, at your fingertips. The challenge is to learn and understand where and how you find all available information. There’s also a great risk that you can experience what we can define as “target fascination” when much of your time is spent on the EFB, accessing information, playing with different settings etc, that you forget paying attention to the most important thing – flying the aircraft! After the story of imagining the use of technology from the Starship Enterprise actually came true, who knows what else the future will bring?
Will EFB be future flight controller?
A while back, I was repositioning as a passenger to another airport where I would pick up my aircraft. I was in my uniform and had just found my seat in the cabin, sat down and picked up my EFB to start the preparation for my flight later on that day. A passenger walked by and asked if I was not supposed to sit up front instead so I could steer the plane? I looked at him, smiled and said, “You know, modern technology is amazing. I can sit here in a comfortable cabin together with you and control the aeroplane with my iPad!” He just looked at me with a somewhat frightened look and continued further back in the cabin.
EFB is a fantastic tool even if it is not yet possible to fly the plane with it. In any case, the EFB has a lot of potential and capabilities but, like anything else, it takes training to fully unlatch the abilities of this tool. Also, as a safety concern, you must know the equipment and tools that you have at your disposal.
So, you might be wondering what happened to student pilot Steve? He did actually get his act together and managed to learn some cockpit organizational skills. Today, he is a captain for a major airline and I’m sure that he truly enjoys the new world of Electronic Flight Bag (EFB)!