Market for electronic flight bags (EFBs) still down, but slowly turning upward

Sept. 3, 2009
The current economic downturn has hit the commercial aircraft market hard. Aircraft orders down as much as 30 percent in some circles. This of course trickles down to those who design cockpit avionics such as electronic flight bags (EFBs).

By John McHale

The current economic downturn has hit the commercial aircraft market hard. Aircraft orders down as much as 30 percent in some circles. This of course trickles down to those who design cockpit avionics such as electronic flight bags (EFBs).

EFBs were basically created to eliminate paper in the cockpit but offer capabilities such as airport moving maps (AMMs), satellite weather updates, electronic charting, etc. Such capabilities continue to be developed, but orders have decreased over the last year as airlines cut back on expenditures to weather the downturn in their business.

"From the commercial aviation perspective, given that the U.S. airline market lost $6 billion in the first six months of this year, operators are being very efficient with their scarce capital," says Michael Hess, business development executive for Aviation at Jeppesen in Englewood, Colo. "Even with this conservatism, we are seeing active movement, albeit measured, at a number of U.S. and European operators.

"With military aviation, given that U.S. defense budget is shrinking or at least realigning under the new administration, the U.S. market is cautious about where it is commits budget capital," he continues. "But as leaders understand the operational efficiencies that EFB solutions offer on both financial savings and mission effectiveness, we are still seeing movement at a number of levels within the Department of Defense. This is even truer in the international market space where we are seeing a lot of activity."

"Aircraft markets are slowly recovering from the economic downturn, but will take another 12 months at least before business regains its original strength as seen prior to Oct 2008," says Loring MacKenzie, senior marketing and sales manager at Esterline CMC Electronics in Montreal, Quebec. "Commercial Air Transport airlines are not spending upgrade money unless mandated by the authorities or there is a very compelling short term financial gain to be made. Business Aircraft operators are in the same mode; unless they are putting their plane down for an avionics upgrade or other major mod, very few operators will consider an EFB installation."

Class 2 EFBs

"We feel that the overall market is beginning to trend-up – especially in Western Europe," says Ken Crowhurst, director of marketing at navAero in Chicago. "The North American [Class 2 EFB] market is still very tight but is starting to show some levels of increased interest in EFB technology due to its ability to help lower operational costs."

The market is very slow to come back," says Bill Ruhl, marketing manager for Astronautics in Milwaukee, Wis. However it is not just the economy that is making it hard for EFB suppliers especially of Class 1 and 2 EFBs, he adds.

Class 1 and 2 EFBs are portable table and not installed equipment on the aircraft such as Class 3 EFBs, which are installed on new aircraft, he explains. Class 2 EFBs can be installed but typically not.

The problem is that airlines are having a hard time "justifying using class 2 EFBs just to eliminate paper," Ruhl says. This really hurting the retrofit market.

The FAA is allowing new functionality such as airport moving maps on Class 2 EFBs has helped in this area, but it is becoming more of a competitive and cultural problem than one of capability, he continues.

The larger airlines do not want their pilots to be able to take the EFBs – loaded with sensitive company data – off the airplane, Ruhl says.

Lufthansa is an exception, Ruhl says. The airline wants it s pilots have their own PC that they can take with them when they leave the plane. Unfortunately most other airlines do not have this viewpoint

There are also certification issues with EFBs because they are not original parts to the aircraft and need to be re-certified if any changes are made and need to be repaired by certified repair stations, Ruhl says. Software is the defining factor in EFB capability, he adds.

In new aircraft such as the Boeing 787 technology related to the FAA's next generation (NextGen) satellite navigation system will go on the front avionics displays, but in older aircraft "it can't be put on the front display," so they will have to turn toward EFBs, Ruhl says.

In the class 2 arena Astronautics software engineers are designing such applications, Ruhl says. This distinguishes Astronautics from competitors who sell less costly EFB solutions, he adds.

Astronautics offers single processor and dual processor EFBs, Ruhl says. The single processor device uses the windows operating system, while the dual processor solution uses Windows and Linux, he adds.

Ruhl says Linux is the only operating system certified to DO-178 C that he has seen.

Both Astronautics EFBs have capability for cockpit display of traffic information for ground operations in accordance with AC 20-519, video surveillance and control, fault log, satellite weather, document reader, checklists, electronic charts, airport mapping, performance, digital map (Falcon View), and mission planning, according to the Astronautics data sheet. The dual processor device also offers a full suite of ACSS SafeRoute applications including ADS-B based merging and spacing, as well as growth to host certified Type C applications such as CPDLC and ADS-B for controlling En Route traffic.

CMC engineers are focusing on several technological development aspects of their PilotView Class 2 EFB system: "increased processor speed, RAM and internal memory; enhanced display size and quality; application integration in the areas of AMM and ADS-B IN, and support of Type-C applications such as merging and spacing and Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC), MacKenzie says.

"The successor to our PilotView CMA-1100 EFB, of which almost 2,000 have been delivered, is the CMA-1100 MkII," MacKenzie continues. "With processor and memory upgrades, the MkII was launched last fall and is now in full scale production. Also launched at the same time is CMC's all new PilotView CMA-1410 10.4 inch display-processor, which was chosen by both Boeing earlier this year for the B737NG program, and by Rockwell Collins for the Bombardier Global platforms.

The CMA-1410 and -1410E enhanced display are entering full scale production, he adds.

"The latest technological development for the Class 2 EFB sector is the ability to interface with aircraft systems to allow for the deployment of Airport Moving Map applications with own-ship position shown," navAero's Crowhurst says. "This has been allowed to take place due to the foresight of the FAA and industry-leading data content providers like Jeppesen who has achieved a TSO for their AMM application that provides for a cost-effective Class 2 platform to host safety enhancing situational awareness software. Additional technology developments also include the ability of Class 2 (or Class 3) EFB systems to provide an access point to multiple forms of wireless communications pipelines for text and/or data transfer – satcom for anytime connectivity or WiFi or Cellular (3G) for on-the-ground connectivity.

Currently navAero engineers are preparing "the commercialization of our new Thin Client display which provides for Ethernet connectivity to our EFB CPU."

The tPad 2000 Thin Client device is a stand alone computer system with its own 800 megahertz processor, 4-gigbyte storage facility, and 100 megabit network interface, Crowhurst says.

"The display forms a node in the EFB network and can be connected to a dedicated host EFB CPU, which acts as the server and facilitates aircraft connectivity and hosts software applications," he explains. "If the host EFB for some reason become unavailable, the display can be connected-over-Ethernet to the second host EFB and operations can continue.

"The tPad 2000 can also be utilized for additional displays (i.e. for use by the IRO on international flights or by cabin attendants)," Crowhurst says. "The user of the display can connect (switch) the display to either of the host EFBs to monitor an application or operate a software application. This display is based upon our highly successful tPad 1500 and also offers the differential advantages of virtually unlimited cable run distance from the display to the EFB CPU."

Airport moving map

"The latest research elements are on taxi routing, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) traffic and runway alerting," says Scott Powell, enterprise manager, for cockpit solutions, Aviation at Jeppesen. "While there are (and have been) research projects at Mitre, NASA-Ames Research Center, and Technische Universitat Darmstadt into the situational awareness improvements by leveraging these technologies – it will be awhile before this technology is deployed on a widespread basis due to the entire ADS-B system needing to be in place for the value to be realized."

The Federal Aviation Administration's Capstone project is quantifying the situational improvement offered by surface moving map applications and ADS-B traffic/alerting.

Jeppesen engineers are currently working on their next commercial release due out later this year. "From the military aviation perspective, Jeppesen now offers a solution that is intended to be a strategic situational awareness tool that enables TASM aircraft to operate in commercial airspace globally," Powell says.

Electronic Flight Bag company listing

Aircraft Management Technologies
Dublin, Ireland

Milwaukee, Wis.

DAC International
Austin, Texas

Franklin, Wis.

Esterline CMC Electronics
Montreal, Quebec

General Dynamics Itronix
Sunrise, Fla.

Goodrich Corp.
Burnsville, Minn.

Englewood, Colo.

L-3 Communications
Sarasota, Fla.

Chicago, Ill.


Teledyne Controls
El Segundo, Calif.

Ultramain Systems
Albuquerque, N.M.

Universal Avionics Systems Corp.
Tucson, Ariz.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!