MIAMI — During the WSI Annual Commercial Aviation User Group held last June in Andover, Massachusetts, Southwest Airlines Captain Paul Tremback spoke about the airline’s use of the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) along with the benefits of the program. Southwest began using EFBs in June of 2014, and achieved a paperless cockpit last November.
The EFB helps pilots perform tasks such as navigation, and fuel management more easily and efficiently without the use of paper. Without an EFB, each pilot is required to carry about 40 pounds of paper, comprised of aircraft operating manuals, navigational charts, checklists, and logbooks.
Each of Southwest’s 9,000 pilots uses an Apple iPad Air as his or her EFB. Captain Tremback said that using the devices rather than traditional flight bags reduces weight by 80 pounds each and every flight. Needless to say, this provides Southwest with substantial fuel savings, as it operates nearly 4,000 flights per day. It also reduces printing costs, and eliminates the need for pilots to constantly print and update operational manuals each time there is a revision.
Southwest pilots buy their own devices, and are then reimbursed. This way, the devices are not considered as company property, and pilots are permitted to use them for personal use when outside of work. In case of hardware glitches, crew bases do have iPads available on loan, if needed. The EFBs attach to the side windows of the Boeing 737s in the Southwest Fleet, using a PIVOT Case. The PIVOT Case serves as a protective case for the iPad, but also attaches easily to a mounting arm, which attaches to the flight deck window with a suction cup. Southwest provides these cases for pilots.
The apps Southwest pilots have installed in their iPads include JeppFD Pro which Jeppesen describes as “a fully interactive enroute paper replacement, for RNAV equipped commercial airline and military operations.” RNAV is the use of GPS for navigation. Southwest pilots have been flying RNAV RNP (Required Navigational Performance) approaches since 2010. And of course, Southwest also uses a WSI app to help plot routes around weather.
Captain Tremback shared that the lack of WiFi connectivity in the cockpit is something that Southwest is looking to overcome, and implement within the next year. Last October, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive, saying the Honeywell phase 3 display units on Boeing 737s and 777s must be replaced within 60 months due to a concern over interference from wireless devices, and said that airspeed, altitude, pitch and roll, attitude and heading could disappear from the displays. Honeywell was quick to respond that there have been zero in-flight incidents of monitor failure due to WiFi interference.
In his presentation, Tremback shared that a regulatory solution is pending, which would allow Southwest to attain the so-called “connected cockpit.” He also mentioned that Southwest’s marketing folks had expressed concern that pilot use of the Ku-band WiFi (provided by Global Eagle Entertainment) could degrade from the customer experience. Once they are connected, Southwest pilots will receive real time convective weather information on their route, beyond 140 nautical miles. Turbulence avoidance not only maintains passenger comfort, but reduces injuries to flight crew members and mitigates the need for aircraft damage inspections. Southwest pilots will also receive enhanced fuel optimization information, allowing pilots to fly in a way that will conserve fuel. Keeping fuel expenses down has been a focus for the airline, and has helped keep operating costs lower than many competitors for over four decades.
Can pilots charge their iPads on the flight deck? Yes, they can. They are supposed to have their iPads charged to a certain battery percentage, based on flight length, but there is a 28 volt outlet that accepts an adapter and USB charging cable, just in case. Apart from a DC outlet in each galley, these are the only charging outlets on Southwest aircraft – a point heavily noticed and frowned upon as Southwest revealed their new B/E Aerospace seats this April at the Aircraft Interiors Expo, for the 737-800 and 737 MAX.