Electronic Flight Bags, or EFBs, provide a myriad of benefits to pilots who are well-versed in their use and care.
It cannot be understated how useful an Electronic Flight Bag, or EFB, can be for a pilot. EFBs can drastically reduce workload, improve safety, streamline communications, and ease flight planning. They serve as a replacement for cumbersome, unwieldy paper products that take time to sort and assess, and space to store. Their light weight is a plus for pilots flying smaller aircraft whose weight and balance decisions are affected by even small shifts in paper weight, and their ability to combine so many different applications into one small tablet proves an asset to accessibility time and time again. No wonder so many pilots now use EFBs!
But an EFB can be a hindrance at best or, much worse, a flight risk, to those unversed in their proper use and care. An EFB is only an asset when used in accordance with the regulations, specifications, and recommendations that govern its capabilities.
Types of EFBs
EFBs are sorted into three different classes:
Class 1 EFBs are typical laptops, iPads, and other portable electronic devices, or PEDs. They are the same type of PEDs you would see other people using for business or leisure. Class 1 EFBs are not connected to the aircraft in any way.
Class 2 EFBs are similar to Class 1, but while they remain portable and removable from the aircraft by flightcrew with no special tools or training, they are typically mounted in the aircraft for each flight and hooked into the aircraft systems for power or data.
Class 3 EFBs are fully mounted into the aircraft and cannot be removed except by maintenance personnel. They are usually used as multifunction displays (MFDs) when paired with Type C software (see below).
The software installed on each of these three classes of EFB can also be sorted into three types:
Type A software consists of "static" applications--information that will not change during the flight. These applications are usually document viewers that will show operating manuals, NOTAMs, the Aeronautical Information Manual, or similar.
Type B software is anything that can pan, zoom, scroll, or calculate. All aeronautical charts fall under this umbrella, as well as programs for calculating weight and balance or other performance considerations prior to or during flight.
Type C software can only be paired with Class 3 EFBs, as it requires a connection to the aircraft. This software includes any data that would be present in a typical MFD.
Your operation may use different combinations of EFB class or software type depending on its authorizations and needs.
EFB use and care
Your first task when being assigned or otherwise acquiring an EFB is to familiarize yourself with company policy and procedures for using an EFB, as well as the FAA regulations tied to the EFB class and software types you will be using. Although all EFB situations are slightly different, there are a few good general rules you can follow:
- Different EFBs are to be used in different situations. Type 1 EFBs are useful for planning and cruise operations, but are not to be used during critical phases of flight and must be stowed. Type 2 and 3 EFBs, depending on their software, may be intended for those critical flight phases to ease workload. Ensure you know the difference. If using an EFB during a critical flight phase, the second-in-command should be using the EFB while the pilot-in-command focuses on flying the aircraft.
- Do not install other applications that are not approved by your operator or intended for flight planning or operations. Do not use the EFB for non-flight-related operations.
- If the screen of the EFB becomes dirty, most can be cleaned using a soft, dry cloth, such as an eyeglass cleaner cloth. Do not use water or other cleaning liquids.
- Most EFBs react poorly when exposed to extreme heat or cold. If your EFB is a portable one, keep it out of direct sunlight and do not leave it in locations where it may be exposed to extreme temperatures.
Preparing to fly
Before your first time flying with an EFB, consider sitting down while on the ground and performing a "mock flight" with just your EFB. First, ensure you understand the basics of your EFB--turning it off and on, turning on and connecting to the Wi-Fi, what applications are installed and where, and how to obtain necessary updates.
Once you are comfortable navigating on your EFB, begin your mock flight. Enter all the data for performance calculations as you would before a real flight and ensure the results make sense when compared to a paper chart. Practice route planning and following using enroute charts, and take the time to read and interpret approach charts--both ones you are familiar with (to check veracity) and unfamiliar with (for understanding). Ensure that whatever you intend to do with an EFB in the cockpit, you can do easily and without wasted time or confusion on the ground.
You can also practice with your EFB by flying a familiar flight plan while acting as SIC, notifying the PIC that you would like to use this flight to become proficient in the use of your EFB. Do not attempt to learn to use the EFB while flying the aircraft. Request that the PIC fly the aircraft while you perform other flight functions with the EFB.
Finally, while some types of operations require that you have paper charts as a backup, it is never a bad idea to have them with you just in case, even if it is not a requirement. Keep paper charts with you at least until you are comfortable and experienced using the EFB, and remember to always have a backup plan in case an EFB fails--whether that's a secondary EFB, a back-up battery, or the paper charts.
By understanding your EFB better, this handy flight tool can drastically improve your flight experience, saving you time and workload while improving situational awareness and flight safety.