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Innovation? It’s in the Bag!

August 10, 2012  By Paul Dixon

Just as the iPhone turned the cellular phone world upside down, so the iPad is unleashing (literally and figuratively) a revolution in the cockpit in the form of the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB).

Just as the iPhone turned the cellular phone world upside down, so the iPad is unleashing (literally and figuratively) a revolution in the cockpit in the form of the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB).

CHC president/CEO Bill Amelio maintains the Electronic Flight Bag will transform business and performance by using technology – which in turn, will help establish trust. (Photo courtesy of CHC)


The EFB is the paperless version of the traditional pilot’s flight bag, which can contain up to 40 pounds of operating manuals, navigational charts, handbooks, checklists, logbooks, weather information, and just about anything a pilot needs to operate an aircraft. By contrast, the iPad-based flight bag weighs under a pound and a half and has all the necessary materials loaded in app form.

The concept of personal computing in the cockpit is not new. FedEx brought computers into the cockpit 20 years ago when it deployed its Airport Performance Laptop Computer to carry out aircraft performance calculations on the aircraft. They followed that in the mid-’90s by installing docking stations for laptops under their Pilot Access Terminals. What worked in large commercial aircraft was not necessarily suited for helicopters, but with the introduction of the first Apple iPad in April 2010, the right platform had arrived.


At this year’s CHC Safety & Quality Summit in Vancouver, Bill Amelio, CHC’s president/CEO, spoke of trust, technology and transformation with his firm’s Electronic Flight Bag project as an example of all three. The concept is simple: transforming business and performance by using technology that has gained widespread trust.

Implemented across its worldwide operations, the EFB will soon serve as a vehicle for standardizing CHC’s flying operations at bases around the world. This increased efficiency will pay dividends in the form of shortened accounts receivable cycles, more complete information for crew scheduling and maintenance activities, and the elimination of in-flight paperwork duties. The CHC EFB will also provide flight crews with powerful tools for routing, fuel planning and weight and balance calculations.

Jed Hansen, manager of Operational Support at CHC, who leads the EFB implementation project, spoke with Helicopters about its role in transforming the fleet. “The iPad is a device that most people are familiar with. It’s a stable system, it’s well proven, and it meets the needs for what we hope to accomplish with it,” says Hansen. “The first benefit of the EFB is safety. The goal is to reduce the workload in the cockpit, provide more accurate calculations and ensure that what the pilot has to do in the cockpit while they’re flying is minimal to allow them to concentrate on flying.”

The first phase of the project for CHC will see the iPad used solely as a document reader. This will allow for all of the documentation carried on board an aircraft to be in electronic format on the iPad. As regulator approval is received in the many countries where CHC operates, the next step will be implementation of the full Appareo Systems’ developed EFB and the introduction of electronic approach plates. Full implementation is planned by the end of this year.

In terms of meeting all regulatory approvals, Hansen notes that CHC has approval in Canada and the Cayman Islands to remove paper completely from its aircraft. “In Norway, Australia and several other jurisdictions, CHC has received approval to commence trials – so the iPads are the source of documentation with paper backups,” says Hansen. “We will continue to go through the process in all jurisdictions we operate. Once we have completed the trial period we are granted approval to remove the paper documents. Over the next six months, all of our documents will be electronic with no requirement for paper backup.”

When asked what would happen in the event of an unforeseen disaster or calamity that could affect communications on a regional or global basis, Hansen said pilots would have to revert back to a paper system. “We are currently using Jeppesen IFR charts in most locations on a 28-day cycle,” he says. “We need to update it on a desktop and print out our approach plates. We would need to revert to the old system or conduct operations under VFR conditions without Internet connectivity.

“When we started looking at the Appareo application, we started looking at having some failsafe in it. Obviously, the first time [the system] is installed you need connectivity. Once it’s on the iPad, it can be used as a standalone. We wanted that for power failures, Internet failures; also as we’re flying along, changing, or redoing, routing. Eventually, there’s the opportunity for connectivity in the cockpit, but we’re not looking at that yet, so we need a standalone capability.”

In addition to the iPad, CHC is developing a desktop planning tool with Appareo. This tool will enable a pilot or dispatcher to sit at a computer, and through servers, uplink it to the iPad. Before this can go forward, however, the company needs to ensure that if the servers go down or wireless Internet is not available, they can synch it through a local area network or Bluetooth.

CHC has also taken steps to make sure its EFB program is even more airtight by having necessary backup procedures in place. For example, there are two iPads per aircraft and backups are carried at all bases. “We’ve tried to cover everything; ensuring that everything is of the safest standard,” says Hansen. “We have a single, controlled, auditable flight planning system that is consistently used around the world by CHC. Everyone will be using the same manuals and the same flight planning requirements, which are all determined by a centralized flight standards group; it just gives a little bit more control. From there, there are all sorts of things it can drive – maintenance systems, crew scheduling systems, automatic flight duty tracking and flight qualification requirements. All of the flight data in the EFB can populate other company systems.”

With the EFB in place, CHC can also ensure flight times are accurate and errors aren’t being made. There’s also a weight savings and an extra value to customers. Other benefits include document control, greater accuracy, and of course, improved safety. “If we were to produce a new manual, from the time we said, ‘OK, it’s done,’ to the time it ended up at our bases around the world, it would probably be up to 20 days considering shipping, customs and then it actually gets put in the aircraft. With the iPad, you just hit one button and in 20 seconds you have the latest documentation installed everywhere around the world.”

Finding the Comfort Zone
There was a time in the not too distant past when technological changes caused great angst across the workforce, with many people threatened by new and unfamiliar technology. That’s certainly not the case here. Hansen says pilots are eagerly awaiting the EFB to be fully integrated into overall operations. “In our business, most people have an iPad or an iPhone. They’ve already downloaded applications for aviation on their iPads and they’ve played with them. They see how much easier it makes their life.”

The first phase of the Electronic Flight Bag project will see the iPad used solely as a document reader. This will enable CHC crews to have documentation carried on board in an electronic format on the iPad. (Photo courtesy of CHC)


CHC has implemented a training program for the first phase of the rollout, the document reader portion. A PowerPoint presentation walks pilots through the introduction to the iPad; another five to 10 minutes of familiarization with an actual device provides a level of comfort. So, how have pilots embraced it so far? Those familiar with iPhones and iPads are already offering suggestions on potential improvements.

“CHC is worldwide organization, so a lot of our communication is electronic already,” says Hansen. “Sitting at a base anywhere in the world today, pilots can get onto their computer and see the spreadsheet that is designed for flight planning at that base. They already see the EFB as a robust flight planning tool that they can utilize the entire day and realize their life gets easier.”

The issue of privacy and security is a huge concern in today’s business environment and CHC isn’t taking the issue lightly. The U.S. Department of Defense, for example, has been looking at a wide range of potential EFB systems across its widely diverse mix of aircraft and mission requirements, and earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force cancelled a project that would have included up to 18,000 iPads used as EFBs. While the USAF has offered no official comment, it has been widely reported that the realization that the iPad incorporates Russian designed software within its document reader and security software was the reason.

On the various security issues involved, Hansen notes, “as far as documents that are available on it, they are available to all of our crew today through our Intranet. As part of our document control, they are password protected, there is an iPad login as well as the controlled documents on the FTP site password protected. The EFB application is secure with the data running through secure networks. We have control features on the iPad to provide security, which prevents pilots from downloading anything they want on them. I’m comfortable that what is on the iPad is appropriately secure.”

The Sky’s the Limit
The future holds even more promise as the EFB program fully gets going, notes Hansen. For example, CHC helicopters are equipped with ISAT and there is the potential in the future to be able to Bluetooth an individual iPad to receive data, so that by clicking the weather app on the home screen, up-to-date weather and NOTAMs will be available. Dispatch could ping a pilot a new routing just like that, so the pilots don’t have to change it themselves.

CHC’s Electronic Flight Bag will provide flight crews with powerful tools for routing, fuel planning, and weight and balance calculations.
(Photo courtesy of CHC)


“I’m also excited about an application we call a shuttle page,” says Hansen. “Quite often, we’ll go offshore and when we’re offshore we’ll do multiple stops, maybe five or 10 and up to 30 in some locations. You’ve got one person boarding, two disembarking for example at each stop and with paper and a calculator one pilot’s head is down non-stop trying to keep up with this.  With the EFB, it will allow us to simply drag and drop on the screen and all your weights are automatically calculated. The amount of workload that is reduced by having this available is phenomenal.”

Initially, CHC had considered a PC-based option that would have linked the company’s internal mainframe PC system with the iPad EFB. But after careful analysis, it was determined that a better solution was to keep the flight planning system on the Apple platform. Appareo is working out a Mac solution that will see Mac computers for the flight planning side at all operations in addition to the company PC system.

“This will allow people with the appropriate authority to do different things,” says Hansen. “A lot of our customers like options, because payload is a factor on helicopters, we want to be able to provide different scenarios to determine what will suit the situation best. This setup will allow us to sit at a desktop and try out various options so when a pilot grabs their EFB and selects option 2, there’s option 2 loaded on their iPad.”

Working with Appareo on the new system has been a very constructive process, Hansen says. “They did a great job of keeping the desktop appearance and functionality the same as the iPad.  There are minimal differences because of the bigger screen, but it’s got the same information, in basically the same presentation. A click of a button and you can scroll through and add your locations.

In the end, the development of the EFB system is all about providing the safest working environment possible. For CHC pilots, technology can indeed produce trust. “Now, when a pilot plans a flight they’ve got all the information,” says Hansen. “They don’t have to worry about somebody having played around with the figures. It’s all there and it’s all controlled.”


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