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Class is No Longer in Session: EFB Installation

Source: www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing, By Sabrina Woods

NextGen technologies are entering the cockpits of general aviation (GA) pilots at a rapid pace. Sprouting from the days when Federal Express repurposed a laptop computer to access information normally found in paper manuals, today’s electronic flight bags (EFBs) are possibly the most common tool GA pilots use to access NextGen capabilities. Current EFBs feature extensive capabilities, including quick and effective flight plan filing, accurate real-time performance calculations, seamless (and paperless) information updates through data transfer, and access to weather and traffic information enabled by NextGen’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) In program.

Previously, in order to have all of this wonderful power at your fingertips, there were three different EFB classifications with different guidance for each. But in the interest of clarity and in order to streamline the process, the FAA has eliminated those classes and divided EFB into two main categories: Portable and Installed; both able to host Type A (see Appendix A of Advisory Circular 120-76D) and Type B (see Appendix B) software applications.

Portable EFB: This type is the most popular form of EFB use in GA and has the least amount of regulation. These are the off-the-shelf variety that have had no FAA oversight in design or production. You need only ensure that your EFB software program of choice, loaded on your favorite tablet, is carefully secured for takeoffs, landings, and those more turbulent phases of flight so the device doesn’t become a projectile and potentially cause harm. These handheld devices are not considered part of the aircraft type design, so they are not to be in the type or supplemental type certificate (TC/STC).

These EFBs typically sit in a cradle or docking station, and can even be temporarily connected to existing aircraft power. Disconnecting the device from its mount must remain a relatively easy affair, and, as with regular handheld devices, they are not considered part of aircraft type design and therefore do not have to be in the TC or STC.

Next is Installed EFB — the ones that are hard installed in the cockpit. At the very least the mounting is permanently affixed. You must adhere to multiple regulations regarding airworthiness and you may need an STC in order to proceed. AC 20-173 (http://go.usa.gov/c892V) provides guidance for EFB installation for this type. Some of the items the AC addresses are mounts (e.g., arm-mounted, cradle, yoke mounts or clips, docking-stations), crashworthiness, and access to provisional power with regard to switches, fault protection, power source, and data connection, to name a few. In particular, the power interface between your EFB and your aircraft can be tricky, so enlist the services of a certified, knowledgeable maintenance technician if you are considering going this route.

With regard to accessibility, be sure to ask yourself: “am I reaching too far to get to it?” “can I see the screen adequately?” and “is this thing going to come loose at the wrong time?” You need to be aware of the draw of power the device has on your overall systems, and what systems might become compromised from EFB use. Be aware that overcharging the lithium batteries found in most portable devices can quickly become a fire hazard that you should be prepared to handle if necessary.

And above all, please consider what functions you want to use the EFB for and be proficient with them before you take off so that it does not become a distraction later. While the EFB serves as an excellent resource, there is potential it could also lead to pilot distraction, fixation, and automation startle. With every new advancement in technology, a basic understanding of how you interface with the machine must be considered lest the tool turn into a hazard.

Editor’s note: At the time this article was written this AC was in draft and is expected to go final later in 2016.

Learn More

AC 120-76D Authorization for Use of Electronic Flight Bags

Sabrina Woods is an associate editor for FAA Safety Briefing. She spent 12 years as an aircraft maintenance officer and an aviation mishap investigator in the Air Force.