Aviation’s ubiquitous iPad

posted on 13th June 2018

It may come as a surprise to some that many people are not sure what an Apple iPad is for. Is it a camera? Is it a computer? Is it something on a plane? The last suggestion now has a kernel of truth, as it would seem that the device is rapidly becoming an indispensable tool in several areas of civil aviation. Don Parry explains 

The business aircraft cabin is proving particularly attractive. Last December, Duncan Aviation integrated an iPad application for wireless control of the cabin systems in a Falcon 900, calling it the iCabin. This installation uses an iPad app, an Aircell CTR Wi-Fi source and an interface unit to communicate instructions to the Honeywell cabin management system (CMS). In operation, this application connects an iPad to an aircraft’s CMS, providing passengers with a remote control for sound, video and cabin lighting. It is available for any aircraft equipped with approved Wi-Fi sources. A wireless cabin control application for Android devices is now being tested.

Flight Display Systems (FDS) makes the seductive claim that it is possible to easily upgrade an IFE system with the iPad. Passengers can watch films and play games without experiencing uncomfortable viewing positions, thanks to its arm mount or docking station, said to be the first in the industry that can be easily fitted in an optimum position to offer portrait or landscape viewing. Two versions are available to cater for the first and second-generation iPads. The mount also includes a 28V to 5V power converter within the arm of the unit, to charge the iPad.

Each configuration is also available as a version AV with the ability to output audio and video from the iPad or iPad 2 to an existing entertainment system. Once the flight is over, the entire mount assembly can be easily removed from the Base or the iPad can be removed from the mount.

Earlier this year, Innotech Aviation awarded Esoteric Inc. an order for 35 shipsets of its SkyPad wireless in-flight entertainment system (IFE) for Bombardier and Cessna business jet platforms. SkyPad was said to be the industry’s first wireless IFE and cabin control system integrated with the Apple iPad and Internet. SkyPad combines audio/video compression and distribution technology with cloud computing and provides a complete system for content loading, management and playback.

Thanks to Esoteric’s unique approach to wireless technology, the SkyPad system can be implemented for a fraction of the cost of traditional wired systems. In the face of the decline of CDs and DVDs, SkyPad eliminates the need to carry any physical media. The entire system is ready for cloud-based content delivery, via Ku-Band and eventually Ka-Band Internet.

It would seem that the iPad is also entering the cabin of commercial carriers. Last June, Australia’s low fares airline Jetstar announced that it would conduct trials using the iPad, for onboard entertainment on domestic routes across Australia. American Airlines is also investing in portable in flight entertainment (IFE) devices, though it is using the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, Android platform tablet. Both airlines may be in the vanguard of a change in provision of IFE, especially as it suggests a reduction in the previous reliance on specialised and expensive avionics equipment. Might it also suggest a future commercial tussle between the proprietary operating system (OS) platform and the Android open source platform. There could be interesting times ahead. More recently, American Airlines announced the initial phase of the launch of Entertainment On Demand, an inflight streaming video product, as an innovative inflight entertainment option for customers on board its entire fleet of 15 Boeing 767-200 aircraft.

It was inevitable that the iPad should finally migrate to the flight deck of both general aviation and commercial carrier aircraft. The ball was set rolling last January when the FAA approved the use of the Apple iPad within aircraft cockpits across America. So long as the device is used as a secondary, backup resource to paper options, pilots may choose to reference the iPad for various flight needs.

Apps such as ForeFlight’s Mobile 3HD and Hilton Software’s WingX allow pilots to check weather conditions, plan flights and view aviation charts. By using more intuitive pinch-zoom and swiping gestures, pilots can more carefully home in on specific details they’d like to check. Additionally, pilots can choose to load Google Earth or other satellite-based apps to view terrain at an unfamiliar airport. While 2D paper references are reliable and trustworthy, the iPad’s ability to provide simulated 3D views could be a significant advancement in safety.

American Airlines became the first carrier authorised by the FAA to use iPads as Electronic Flight Bags (EFB). The company has now become the first to deploy iPads with an electronic-charting solution. Electronic charting provides pilots with a digital image of their flight route. At the time of writing, the final test phase was a prelude to FAA approval of the devices to serve as Class 1 EFB during all phases of flight. Alaska Airlines is now issuing iPads to its pilots. The point is made that 1.5lb iPads replace up to 25lb of paper flight manuals that pilots are required to carry when they fly. This follows a successful trial by 100 line and instructor pilots and Air Line Pilots Association representatives, who evaluated the feasibility of using iPads as EFBs earlier this year. The iPads contain an app called GoodReader that is loaded with PDF versions of 41 flight, systems and performance manuals, reference cards and other materials.

Updating these reference materials can now be accomplished with one tap on the iPad screen instead of the former, labour intensive process of replacing individual pages with new ones. The iPad is considered a Class 1 electronic device, meaning it is stowed during takeoff and landing under FAA regulations. In conjunction with replacing paper manuals, Alaska Airlines is exploring the replacement of paper aeronautical navigation charts with electronic versions on the iPad. The initiatives, dubbed “Bye, Bye, Flight Bag,” will save about 2.4 million pieces of paper with the added benefit of environmental advantages. The cost of the project will be offset by lower paper demand, printing and distribution expenses and reduced fuel consumption, as some weight is removed from the aircraft.

In January, , in collaboration with Navtech, introduced what was described as commercial aviation’s first affordable hardware and mounting solution for Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) technology designed for the Apple iPad that includes Navtech’s 31,000 page charts library. The one-click update feature automatically replaces outdated content with new versions via the Internet. Swedish cargo carrier Amapola received approval from the Swedish CAA for a Class 2B EFB and introduced the solution in its fleet of Fokker 50s.

Ultramain Systems, Inc. has developed onboard systems software, including eCabin that is a paperless cabin log and passenger information tracking software, accessible via hand-held devices such as the iPad. This innovation allows cabin crew to view passenger manifests, track cabin faults and log new faults at the touch of a button. It integrates also with Ultramaine efbTechLogs, a paperless, tech log software that wirelessly reports technical defects that speeds up rectification on arrival at a destination.

Embraer and APG (Aircraft Performance Group) recently partnered to develop an iPreFlight application for the Phenom 100 and Phenom 300 executive jets. Embraer emphasises that this is much more than a simple application. It is a complete performance package that runs through the iPad. The software uses performance data that has been certificated and approved by the regulatory authorities of Brazil (ANAC), the US (FAA) and Europe (EASA).  The software for the iPad is now being expanded to include the Legacy 600 and Legacy 650. 

Operators will be able to carry out crucial functions with iPreFlight, like optimising aircraft payload for each runway; calculating takeoff performance using APG’s airport database of runways and obstacles; accessing information such as NOTAMs and METARs of all airports on the route, as well as maps and charts; downloading and storing approach charts and airport diagrams and reading updated weather information.

The iPreFlight application will first be available to North American Phenom 100 and Phenom 300 customers but it will soon be offered in other regions. Embraer and APG plan to have this tool available to the entire Embraer executive jets portfolio later this year.

For the lighter GA pilot, an updated version of Cessna’s flight information and planning application for the Apple iPad is now available for all single-engine aircraft manufactured by the company. Cessna iFlite 3 is an iPad app that allows pilots to instantly access up-to-the-minute weather images, plan routes and have access to a dual screen moving maps. iFlite 3 also includes the ability to view Cessna Pilot Operating Handbooks, calculate aircraft weight and balance and even calculate take-off and landing performance numbers.

Other basic features of Cessna’s iFlite include: performance calculations; weight and balance; route planning; weather; etc.     Now, operators of Cessna Citations can perform flight planning on iPads using iPreFlight. The app features real-time METARs and winds aloft, graphical weather, routing, graphical weight & balance, a worldwide database, flight planning, Runway Analysis Max Payload Estimator (MPE) and many other features. iPreFlight will also feature takeoff and landing performance derived from Cessna’s Citation Performance Calculator (CPCalc), part of the CESNAV package. This capability will be phased in for all Citation models for which CPCalc is available.

Flight performance calculations are not performed on the iPad itself. All calculations are completed on the vendor’s server, which means Internet access is required. The Internet service network can be either WiFi or 3G.

Piper Aircraft Inc. is equally active and has sponsored the launch of AirNav.com’s new application for iPad, iTouch and iPhone. AirNav.com is an online service that provides updated information for aviators. In addition to the introduction and rollout, Piper is supporting the new AirNav.com iApp and its various Website pages, including Airport, Navaids, Airspace Fixes, Aviation Fuel and AIRBOSS. The new app does not depict the entire AirNav database, nor replace flight-planning software but it enables very quick access to important data. The Information on the app is pulled from the AirNav Website while connected to the Internet but any search can be saved to an operator’s phone for in-flight use or while out of Internet contact.

The proliferation continues. FltPlan.com has introduced a free route-mapping iPad application, said to be the first in a series of apps exclusively for the iPad. The new app is full of features and tools for all types of flight plans. The most important feature being the ability to view a flight plans over sectional, jet high, or victor low charts while offline in the air.

The iPad’s built-in GPS location service can be toggled to give knots and altitude. A large blue aircraft symbol marks current position on the map. A moving-map option can also be toggled to automatically centre present position while moving. It is possible to display and update flight plans by selecting the route button on the navigation bar. Selecting a route will display it and zoom in, while dragging the route list downwards will download and update the required routes.

Certainly the iPad is versatile, lightweight, easy to stow and does not require many of the complexities of certification. At a time when the use of mobile IFE devices is becoming increasingly popular it can seem like an ideal solution, though it may also have to demonstrate a robustness to cope with constant handling by a wide range of individuals. For the flight deck it offers convenience, adaptability and enhanced operational efficiency. It would seem to be a rapidly emerging market.