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EFB issue that grounded dozens of AA flights ‘an anomaly’

Airlines operating Jeppesen’s FliteDeck electronic flight book (EFB) app have been reassured that the problem which saw dozens of American Airlines (AA) flights delayed on Tuesday and Wednesday (April 28 and 29) was an isolated incident, but with the issue widely reported in the mainstream press, might it dampen some operators’ desire to go digital?

The problem started at 7pm CST on Tuesday, with some of American’s 737 pilots finding that their iPads were shutting down, leaving them unable to take off. According to AA “a few dozen” flights were affected by the issue, which saw aircraft delayed as pilots reinstalled the app.

Jeppesen’s spokesperson Mike Pound, said the problem was caused by the duplication of an instrument landing system chart for Washington’s Reagan National Airport in AA’s database and that the software firm was confident that no other operators would be affected by the “anomaly”.

“It wasn’t a software issue, it wasn’t an app issue; it was an issue of one chart being duplicated in their database. The app wasn’t able to reconcile the duplication and that caused it to become unresponsive and shut down,” he said.

“This is the first time we’ve ever encountered this problem. The version of the software is unique to American, so no we don’t anticipate anybody else having the issue.”

AA moved to a “paperless” cockpit in 2013 – deploying more than 8,000 ipads to its cockpit crew – and many other major operators have followed suit, including Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Iberia, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways, to name but a few.

The advantages are obvious: significant weight savings (up to 25kg a flight book) which offers substantial fuel savings across the fleet; real-time updates to boost safety; and simultaneous data transfer between crew to improve operational efficiency.

According a report published by analysts MarketsandMarkets yesterday (April 30), operators are keen to tap into these benefits, with the commercial EFB market set to grow at a CAGR of 13.4 per cent over the next five years to be worth a cool $4.3bn in 2020.

However, the AA’s difficulties this week remind us that digital applications are not flawless and that one small clash – in this case the visibility of a new navigation chart 24 hours before it replaced the existing chart – can cause costly disruption to flights.

And if, as many predict, we are to see more of these technologies in the maintenance hangar as well as in the flight deck, we must ensure that we have engineers that are qualified to understand not only how to use this software, but how to spot an issue and fix it when – inevitably – it goes wrong.

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