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Image of Honeywell's installed JetWave hardware, awarded final certification from Inmarsat to provide pilots, passengers, operators and maintenance personnel with GX Aviation. (PRNewsFoto/Honeywell)

The Connected Electronic Flight Bag

An inevitable consequence of the new broadband satcom capabilities that satellite-communications network providers and avionics companies are teaming to provide both to the passenger cabins and to the flight decks of aircraft is that pilots’ electronic flight bags (EFBs) are beginning to offer real-time updates of operational information.

Two cooperative ventures – both involving London-headquartered satcoms operator Inmarsat – are now offering, or will soon offer, real-time EFB updating of important flight information such as weather and wind conditions ahead of the aircraft.

Along with other information that real-time EFB updates will make available – such as operational and weather status of diversionary airports for transoceanic ETOPS routes and precise weight data allowing pilots to curtail an aircraft’s weight-and-balance range optimally throughout a flight – this operational data will help pilots fly their aircraft more efficiently.

Using their connected EFBs, pilots will be able to adjust an aircraft’s flight plan in real time, while airborne, to take advantage of beneficial winds and optimal flight trajectories in order to get the aircraft to its destination in the shortest time possible, the aircraft meanwhile burning less fuel than otherwise it would have done.

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Real-time EFB updates by means of satellite communications to the flight deck also will make pilots aware of bad weather or turbulence ahead of their aircraft and potentially allow them – in cooperation with air traffic control – to adjust the flight plan to avoid bad weather as much as possible, providing their passengers with a smoother and less stressful ride.

By being advised in advance through real-time updates to their EFBs of gate-availability issues at their destination airport, pilots will also be able to adjust the cruise speed of their aircraft – again after obtaining approval from air traffic control – in order to perform the landing and taxi-in at a time when any gate delay can be minimized or even avoided completely.

One cooperative venture, in which satcom onboard-terminal manufacturer Cobham SATCOM (a Danish subsidiary of Cobham plc) is partnering with Inmarsat, announced on 3 November that it had enabled in-air connected EFBs for the first time.

The live EFB capability was achieved as part of an FAA-supervised technology evaluation with Hawaiian Airlines to monitor the transmission of communications data over Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S) flight-deck broadband satcom service. These were the first commercial flights to use Inmarsat’s new SB-S service.

Hawaiian Airlines has equipped its fleet of Boeing 767-300ERs with Cobham AVIATOR 300D satcom terminals and the Inmarsat SB-S service. Rockwell Collins’ ARINC aviation communications network establishes the required links between Inmarsat’s L-band satellites and provides the managed service, enabling seamless, secure and uninterrupted connectivity anywhere in the world.

In addition to successfully collecting data during the evaluation using the Cobham Compact Satellite Data Unit interface, the latest test confirms the AVIATOR/SB-S system can also be used to channel ACARS data via Aircraft Data Management (ADM) technology or an Aircraft Interface Device (AID) to another interface – that interface being the EFB.

Another Inmarsat cooperative venture, this one with Honeywell Aerospace, expects to begin providing what Honeywell calls “connected weather radar” to pilots’ EFBs within the next eight months.

According to Honeywell, the weather-radar displays pilots see on their flight-deck displays today show only a small slice of the weather-radar data their aircraft actually collect. But a connected-radar app can broadcast all of the weather-radar data from every aircraft in an airline’s fleet.

After aggregating this data on the ground and processing it, the Honeywell application will let an airline re-broadcast the weather data back to the flight deck-mounted EFBs on every one of its aircraft. The application will show pilots in real time the weather conditions up to 1,000nm ahead of their aircraft and thus will allow them to adjust their flight plans to take advantage of good weather and avoid bad.

Unlike the Inmarsat-Cobham combination, Honeywell Aerospace’s partnership with Inmarsat will provide flight deck and passenger-cabin satcom connectivity over Inmarsat’s new Global Xpress (GX) Ka-band satellite constellation, which will offer much higher data transmission rates than Inmarsat’s L-band satellites do. Honeywell Aerospace designed and manufactures the new JetWave onboard terminals which receive GX-broadcast data on the aircraft and also send data from it.

While it must be noted that as yet Inmarsat isn’t planning to offer the SB-S service over its GX satcom network, it appears likely that one day commercial realities – particularly the much higher data transmission rates possible over the GX network – will persuade the satellite-network operator to allow routeing of the SB-S service over GX.

In any case, Honeywell Aerospace, which is a leader in manufacturing aircraft weather radar equipment, has already developed the connected weather-radar application. Honeywell says that when a volume of JetWave terminal installations have accumulated in individual aircraft – which it reckons will be by mid-2017 – it will offer operators the connected weather-radar application.

Honeywell Aerospace is also developing applications for transmitting from onboard JetWave terminals, via Inmarsat’s GX network, real-time data on the condition of aircraft brakes, auxiliary power units and (for business jets) turbofan engines.

Another company, Aircraft Performance Group (APG), is offering yet another kind of real-time flight-safety and flight-efficiency capability via pilots’ EFBs.

APG, long known as a provider of real-time runway-performance and aircraft maximum-weight calculation to the airline and business aviation industries, is now offering pilots EFB-based, real-time, aircraft weight-and-balance range-curtailment calculation both on the ground and while airborne, using the exact weight data specific to the individual flight.

While satcom broadband connectivity isn’t needed for APG’s real-time weight-and-balance range-curtailment capability (the real-time calculations are performed within the EFB and don’t require any Internet connection), the company offers its customers other EFB-based information services which do need updated occasionally and here in-flight connectivity could be useful. APG provides EFB-stored information services such as an airport obstacle-and-terrain database and OEM flight manuals. Whenever these are updated or revised (which can occur frequently), real-time updates to the flight deck may be beneficial.

TAGS: Technology
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