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Safe and Sound on the Ground

An EFB APP-roach to Improving Surface Safety

Source: FAA Safety Briefing Mar/Apr 2021
By James Williams

You might not quite see “forever” while flying on a nice VFR weather day, but the bird’s eye view makes that hallowed “I-Follow-Roads” approach to navigation pretty easy. Then you land. Even at an airport with a relatively simple layout, getting around on the ground without that bird’s eye perspective can be challenging. It can also be dangerous if even momentary “where-the-heck-am-I” confusion takes you into a wrong turn.

Fortunately, today’s technology has your back. Any of the many flight management apps for either installed or portable Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) can restore the bird’s eye view when and where you arguably need it the most.

foreflight EFB app

Charting the Way

EFB apps excel in the integration of charts, planning, and mapping. Beyond saving you the effort of digging through a set of charts, modern EFBs allow the pilot to load procedures for all phases of flight. The advent to geo-referenced charts and procedures is clearly a breakthrough boon to surface safety. These offer a moving map not just for aerial navigation, but also for showing where you are on the airport surface. Implementation varies, but the function is founded on the basic concept of allowing GPS sensors to locate your aircraft on a chart and track its movement.

In the surface safety world, this tool lets you see your “ownship” location on an airport diagram. GPS on the ground reduces confusion, because you get that bird’s eye view of where you are and what is around you (e.g., runways, taxiways, FBOs, etc.). Better yet, some vendors now highlight runways and airport hot spots — with the option of audible warnings — as you approach them. Several apps allow you to annotate maps and charts, so you can copy and/or highlight taxi instructions. Seeing the highlighted route offers a great opportunity to verify correct (and mutual) understanding of taxi instructions. If what you drew looks odd, check it out before you move.

EFBs with geo-referenced charts can also help you avoid other surface safety mistakes, such as lining up with the wrong runway when approaching to land. This kind of runway confusion is (at least in theory) harder to do if you are on an actual IFR approach procedure, but your flight deck discipline should always include such verification. When flying VFR or making a visual approach, use the geo-referenced “ownship” display to confirm that you really are heading to the right piece of pavement. If your particular app offers a track vector, be sure to activate it so you can see exactly where your flight path is taking you.

garmin efb app

Illuminating the Gloom

We looked at Synthetic Vision (SV) capabilities in a previous issue (“Extra Eyes in the Sky” While that piece focuses on SV’s value as an inflight tool, there are plenty of ways it can also help with surface safety. Just to refresh your memory, SV’s virtual three-dimensional representation can improve situational awareness by helping you see ahead in darkness or limited visibility. It also offers a good cross reference to any airport diagram or detailed moving map display: Does what appears on your SV look correct when compared to the chart? Some systems even monitor/track your preflight planning and can provide alerts if you line up on the wrong runway or a taxiway.

Expanding Your EFB

Updates and new hardware can offer a constant stream of fresh features. Portable ADS-B In receivers that connect via Bluetooth to apps can add features like live weather and traffic. Keep in mind, though, that especially when dealing with traffic, how that information is gathered can affect how you can best use it. One vendor offers a terminal traffic system that tracks ADS-B traffic information on the moving map even during taxi. It includes depiction of ground vehicles equipped with ADS-B. Some apps offer similar sys-tems, but it’s always important to know the limitations. For example, some use internet traffic for ground targets. That means they require an internet connection and have higher latency. Consequently, they should be used more for broad/strategic general awareness than for close-up “tactical” navigation. We hasten to stress, though, that responsible pilots should use these systems only as an aid to spotting and confirming traffic, not as the sole means of see-and-avoid.

Here’s the bottom line. Thanks to rapid (and constant) advances in technology, even a modest investment will give you access to capabilities once available only in multi-million dollar aircraft. Even better, there is competition to spur a range of options, features, and price points and, as noted above, many offer free trial periods for a chance to “test fly” them. Such tools can help you avoid costly — not to mention dangerous — surface safety mistakes, so they are well worth adding to your aviation safety arsenal.

James Williams is FAA Safety Briefing’s associate editor and photo editor. He is also a pilot and ground instructor.

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