Gulf Air rolls out Electronic Flight Bag for pilots
Airline equips pilots with iPads loaded with essential flight materials
Gulf Air has provided its pilots with what it describes as an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB). Essentially, the deployment has seen the airline allow pilots to use iPads loaded with essential flight documents instead of carrying paper-based materials.
Traditionally, pilots need to carry heavy flight bags full of documents to safely complete journeys. These bags contain aircraft manuals, flight plans and navigational charts. However, according to Dr Jassim Haji, director of IT at Gulf Air, there was an opportunity here for Gulf Air to not only make its pilots' lives easier, but to also save on costs.
"Those paper-based manuals are heavy, very time consuming to update and maintain, and costly," he told ITP.net.
"The pilots also need navigational charts as part of the flying process, which are traditionally printed on large papers. These are not easy to use in the small cockpit. Essentially, these traditional approaches for using paper-based materials are not convenient, and such heavy materials burn more fuel."
The solution was to create a digitised version of the flight bag. That would mean equipping the pilots with tablet devices, which would be loaded with all of the materials that a pilot would need to complete the journey. And because the files are digital format, it would be easy for pilots to update them mid-flight, should the aircraft have to deviate from its original flight path.
Gulf Air did not want to simply buy a solution off the shelf, though some airlines globally have opted for this method. Instead, the company wanted to build and develop the electronic flight bag in-house, so that it could be totally integrated with the airline's infrastructure.
"Gulf Air formulated an implementation approach to design the full solution internally and to build the solution using the different components - instead of simply relying on external parties to bring their solution as one box without Gulf Air having control or knowledge about the different components," Dr Haji explained.
"This way Gulf Air was able to use the best-of-breed for each component belonging to different providers and integrating them all together to provide the optimal EFB solution. This ensured that Gulf Air's resources developed the technical knowledge of EFB and the required skills to design, implement, support and maintain such solutions."
Gulf Air still called on a regional systems integrator, EMW, to help with the physical deployment, but the idea was that the airline would conduct most of the leg-work itself, so as to acquire the skills necessary to run the solution effectively, as well as to roll it out to other members of flight staff - such as air stewards - in the future.
According to Dr Haji, the project succeeded in making pilots' lives easier. He also pointed out that Gulf Air has gleaned serious financial benefits from the deployment, too. For example, the airline has seen a 50% saving on printing costs - around 500,000 sheets per year, amounting to $1.5 million.
Read the full case study on this deployment in the upcoming issue of Arabian Computer News, out on April 1.