Finding an EFB Primer in Callback Reports

By Scott Spangler on October 27th, 2010

Like any pilot who’s lugged a bag heavy with thousands of pages of instrument approach procedures, SIDs, STARs, airport diagrams, and ancillary information, my aching back really likes the idea of the paperless cockpit served by an electronic flight bag, aka EFB.

My only experience with them so far has been tradeshow demonstrations, but it’s allowed me to revel in their impressive capabilities without the distraction of having to fly an airplane. Equally important has been the operational primer embodied by EFB reports in ASRS Callback.

Lessons from my tradeshow schooling taught me there are three EFB classes: I is portable and self-contained, and these electronic devices range from smartphones to laptops and tablets like the iPad. Class II devices are often portables in a hard mount, and Class III units are bolted in the panel.

The Callback primer focused on a trio of potential problems that could easily apply to all aviation technology in GA and air carrier cockpits: Readability, Database Accuracy, and Pilot Training & Experience. If you’re contemplating an EFB, or are still in a gee-whiz mindset but concerned with safety, read on.

Screen size is just one aspect of a pilot’s ability to read important information. It seems logical that the EFB should replicate the single-view presentation of a paper instrument approach chart. But what about “flipping” to another page?

With paper, like most pilots I connected color-coded plastic book marks in the binder’s ring, which makes changing to the next chart a single, no-look operation. EFBs, especially those with small touch-screen “buttons,” can pose problems for big-fingered pilots like me.

Database accuracy and currency is surely the digital equivalent of keeping their paper predecessors current. Regardless the medium, it’s current or it is not. Accuracy is another matter, as a pilot learned on a VFR flight. Both his EFB and GPS databases showed him clear of an airport’s Class D airspace. Acting on a “feeling,” he consulted a current sectional chart and saw that he was inside the 10-mile ring of the airport’s TRSA, which neither database depicted.

Training and experience are the bane of all technology because different equipment makes and models don’t share a common interface. Tradeshow demos easily proved that. Both Callback  reports reiterated the importance learning how to use the equipment without the distraction of having to fly an airplane. –Scott Spangler

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