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An electronic flight bag (EFB) is an electronic information management device that helps flight crews perform flight management tasks more easily and efficiently with less paper. It is a general purpose computing platform intended to reduce, or replace, paper-based reference material often found in the pilot's carry-on flight bag, including the aircraft operating manual, flight-crew operating manual, and navigational charts (including moving map for air and ground operations). In addition, the EFB can host purpose-built software applications to automate other functions normally conducted by hand, such as take-off performance calculations.
The EFB gets its name from the traditional pilot's flight bag, which is typically a heavy (up to 40 lb/18 kg or more) documents bag that pilots carry to the cockpit. The electronic flight bag is the replacement of those documents in a digital format. EFB weights are typically 1 to 5 pounds (0.5 to 2.2 kg), about the same as a laptop computer, and a fraction of the weight and volume of the paper publications. Common benefits include: weight savings over traditional flight bag, reduced medical claims from handling traditional flight bags, reduced cost, and increased efficiency by reducing or eliminating paper processes. There are also claims of increased safety and reducing pilot workload.
Electronic Flight Bag applications were developed to provide a solution to the everyday problems facing pilots including constantly changing NOTAM information, changing weather patterns, airport issues and delays by providing all the information required for a flight at the touch of a button.
The Electronic Flight Bag allows aircrews access to their briefing pack which includes accurate, reliable, up-to-the minute data about the Operational Flight plan, weather conditions and NOTAM alerts. Crews can capture all actuals, incidents, delays, fuel, or route changes during a flight.
EFB devices can display a variety of aviation data or perform basic calculations (including performance data and fuel calculations.). In the past, some of these functions were traditionally accomplished using paper references or were based on data provided to the flight crew by an airline's "flight dispatch" crew.
For large and turbine aircraft, FAR 91.503 requires the presence of navigational charts on the airplane. If an operator's sole source of navigational chart information is contained on an EFB, the operator must demonstrate the EFB will continue to operate throughout a decompression event, and thereafter, regardless of altitude. The only way to achieve this capability is by using a solid state drive or a standard rotating mass drive in a sealed enclosure.
The earliest EFB precursors came from individual pilots in the early 1990s who used their personal laptops and common software (such as spreadsheets and word processing applications) to perform such functions as weight and balance calculations and filling out operational forms. One of the earliest and broadest EFB implementations was in 1991 when FedEx deployed their Airport Performance Laptop Computer to carry out aircraft performance calculations on the aircraft (this was a commercial off-the-shelf computer and was considered portable). In addition, FedEx also began deploying Pilot Access Terminals on their airplane in the mid-1990s. These later devices were common laptops that used a certified docking station on the airplanes (to connect to power and data interfaces). The first true EFB, designed specifically to replace a pilot's entire kit bag, was patented by Angela Masson as the Electronic Kit Bag (EKB) in 1999. In 2005, the first commercial Class 2 EFB STC (STC No. ST03165AT) was issued to Avionics Support Group, Inc. that covered the installation of provisions for the deployment of the navAero toBagC22 EFB computer and touchscreen display system. The installation was performed on a Miami Air Boeing B737NG. The EFB data was updated using a Terminal Wireless Unit (TWLU) installed at Miami Air's facility, that enabled the EFB to update only the files that had changed on the server. In 2006 MyTravel (a UK charter operation which merged with Thomas Cook airline) became the first to deploy an electronic tech log using GPRS communication, replacing the paper process. Thomas Cook had several years of successful operational experience of an EFB focused on its UK fleet.
In 2009, Continental Airlines successfully completed the world's first flight using Jeppesen Airport Surface Area Moving Map (AMM) showing "own ship" position on a Class 2 Electronic Flight Bag platform - which was the navAero toBagC22 EFB system. The AMM application uses a high resolution database to dynamically render maps of the airport. Through the use of GPS technology, the application show pilots their position ("own-ship") on the airport surface map. The result is much improved positional/situational awareness among flight crews which is a critical safety factor for reducing runway incursions during ground operations especially at busy commercial airports with complex runway and taxiway layouts. The STC underwhich the navAero EFB system was deployed (ST02161LA) also provided for the dual EFB systems to be cross-connected which allowed for the Airport Moving Map to be shared (or "pushed") from one EFB system to the other.
As personal computing technology became more compact and powerful, EFBs became capable of storing all the aeronautical charts for the entire world on a single three-pound (1.4 kg) computer, compared to the 80 lb (36 kg) of paper normally required for worldwide paper charts. New technologies such as real-time satellite weather and integration with GPS have further expanded the capabilities of electronic flight bags. However, for large commercial airlines, the primary problem with EFB systems is not the hardware on the aircraft, but the means to reliably and efficiently distribute content updates to the airplane.
While the adoption rate of the Electronic Flight Bag technology has been slow among large scheduled air carriers, corporate operators have been rapidly deploying EFBs since 1999 due to reduced regulatory burden and easier cost justification.
The Air Force Special Operations Command purchased an initial supply of over 3,000 iPad-based EFBs which were globally fielded in July 2012. In a similar acquisition, Air Mobility Command initiated a contract for up to 18,000 iPad-based EFBs. The Air Force Special Operations Command internally developed a secure method of transferring the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency's (NGA) monthly Flight Information Publications (FLIP) dataset to all its users worldwide. Both Major Commands (MAJCOMs) pursued independent efforts to ensure continuous Ops for their aircrew.
After trialing iPads as EFBs in 2011, Delta Air Lines announced in August 2013 it would roll out Microsoft Surface 2 devices to its pilots, replacing a policy allowing pilots to use personal tablets as EFBs. Delta planned to roll out the tablet to all of its pilots by May 2014, after FAA approval in February. Early risk of breakage to iPads used as EFBs was addressed through rugged case design.
Electronic Flight Bags are divided into three hardware classes and three software types. Reference: FAA Advisory Circular AC 120-76D, EASA Acceptable Means of Compliance AMC 20-25, ICAO Document 10020 "EFB Manual" and FAA Order 8900.1 Inspector Handbook (esp. Vol 4 Chap 15) for the most recent and accurate descriptions:
Note: with the forthcoming release of AC 120-76D, the categorization of Electronic Flight Bag hardware into classes (below) will be retired. Going forward, EFB' s will simply be categorized as "Portable" or "Installed". Portable can be considered to consolidate the previous Class 1 and 2 distinctions, while Installed is equivalent to Class 3. These simplifications made to reduce confusion and to harmonize with already-released EASA and ICAO guidance.
EFB hardware classes include:
Note: With the release of AC 120-76D, the EFB classes are removed and the document introduces a simpler concept of portable and installed equipment, to harmonize with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and to accommodate increasingly complex systems integrating both installed and portable equipment.FAA Advisory Circular AC 120-76D.
The EFB may host a wide array of applications, categorized in three software categories. 
Note: Type C applications are subject to airworthiness requirements and as such must be developed in conformance with DO-178/ED-12 objectives. Type C applications must run on Class 3 EFB.
Note: with the forthcoming[when?] release of AC 120-76D, reference to Type C applications will be removed, and their functionality will no longer be recognized as EFB functions.
According to the FAA, Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3 EFB may act as a substitute for the paper manuals that pilots are otherwise required to carry with them. While Part 91 Operators (those not flying for hire, including private and corporate operators) can use their Pilot In Command (PIC) authority to approve the use of Class 1 and Class 2 EFBs (which are PEDs), operator with OpSpecs (Part 135, Part 121) must seek operational approval through the OpSpecs process.
EFB users and installers should be aware of recent, clarified guidance for FAA Inspectors. Draft guidance pertaining to EFB operational authorization and airworthiness/certification requirements is maintained by the FAA.
Clarifying the intent of FAA Advisory Circular AC 120-76A, new draft inspector handbook guidance includes the following requirements: