For pilots, knowing what runway or taxiway they’re on is critical information. That knowledge is especially important at night, in poor weather or when the crew is unfamiliar with the airport layout.
Pilots have traditionally acquired that information by looking out their windshield. Now, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made it easier for pilots to have an invaluable electronic tool in the cockpit. It provides a moving map display with “own ship position” — that will change and improve runway safety the way GPS has changed the way we safely navigate our cars.
The FAA has aggressively focused on reducing runway incursions for the last several years. After thoroughly reviewing safety data, including human factors research on the safety benefits of own ship position versus the potential safety risks, we changed our certification process to make this technology available while maintaining all appropriate safety standards.
Electronic Flight Bags and Moving Maps
In recent years, paper charts and manuals have increasingly been replaced by the Electronic Flight Bag or EFB: an electronic display system that gives pilots information about a variety of aviation data. These EFBs range from laptop-like devices totally independent of the aircraft that can be used on planes across the existing fleet, to high-end displays permanently installed and fully integrated into the airplane’s cockpit for newer aircraft. The FAA focused our efforts on a third type of device, referred to as a “Class 2 system” that is still portable but takes its power and data directly from aircraft systems.
Most EFBs incorporate a feature called Airport Moving Map, a display that provides a constantly changing view of an airport’s runways, taxiways and structures to help pilots identify and anticipate the airplane’s location on the surface. GPS technology makes it possible for the moving map to show pilots their actual position (own ship) on the airport surface.
The FAA has varying certification levels for Electronic Flight Bags based on the technical complexity of the EFB and the types of data it is intended to display. Devices able to show data both on the ground and in the air, including an Airport Moving Map that identifies the aircraft’s position, are subject to the highest, or “Class C,” standards. These standards were set with particular regard for the strictest in flight requirements.
Same High Standards, Streamlined Certification Process
Since issuing its original guidance for EFB certification in 2003, the FAA has been listening to industry concerns about the complexity and high cost of certifying EFBs to provide the Airport Moving Map/Own Ship Position function for surface movements. The agency also reviewed studies and human factors research on those systems.
Research showed that pilots had far better awareness of their position on the airport’s surface using an own ship position display. Tests also demonstrated that pilots typically glanced at the own ship display, then quickly looked out their windows to verify that information visually, eliminating one of the FAA’s major concerns that pilots would be “heads down” too long for safe operations.
With that data in hand, the FAA decided to streamline the process of certifying the own ship position function of moving map displays to give pilots the safety benefits on the airport surface as soon as possible. FAA certification standards for EFBs remain the same, but we worked with several companies to develop revised certification policies that make this important safety enhancement more cost-effective for operators.
The new policies were finalized and ready for use by the end of April 2007. The first certification was given to Jeppesen in March 2008.
By focusing on the Own Ship Position function and finding innovative ways to simplify certification, the FAA believes the cost of certification for surface operations could drop to as little as $20,000 per unit — about one-tenth the original anticipated cost of EFB certification for ground and air operations. Based on feedback we have received, we believe the aviation industry will have the financial incentive to produce these devices in mass quantities. The result: A higher level of safety at a significantly reduced cost.