Sunday, September 23, 2007

Guidance for the Paperless Cockpit

One of the interesting applications of the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) is electronic documents. Electronic documents allow aircraft operators to amend manufacturer’s flight operations manuals based on operator's policies and procedures and publish these manuals in electronic formats such as Adobe® Portable Document Format (PDF) and XML. Examples of these manuals are:

  • Flight Crew Operating Manual (FCOM)

  • Quick Reference Handbook (QRH)

  • Flight Crew Training Manual (FCTM)

  • Minimum Equipment List (MEL)

  • Fault Reporting Manuals (FRM)

  • Weight and Balance Manual

  • Dispatch Deviations Guide

US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Advisory Circular (AC) 120 76A “Guidelines for the Certification, Airworthiness, and Operational Approval of Electronic Flight Bag Computing Devices” specifies the design and technical criteria for the approval of the human/machine interface of EFB systems. The following is an excerpt of the EFB Operational Evaluation and Approval Job Aid used by FAA inspectors for electronic documents functionalities:

  • Is there a training program on how to display and interact with electronic documents? Is it adequate?
  • Can the crews find the material they are looking for?
  • Is the information organized in a way that makes sense to the crews?
  • Is the information arranged in a consistent way on the screen so that the crews know where to look for specific types of information?
  • Is it obvious when text is out of view? Is it easy to bring that text into view?
  • Can the crew tell where they are in relation to the full document?
  • Can the crew tell where they are in relation to the section of the document they are currently viewing?
  • Is the text of the document easy to read on the screen?
  • Is white space used to separate short main sections of text?
  • Is high priority information especially easy to read?
  • Are tables readable and usable?
  • How are especially long and complex tables handled?
  • Are figures readable and usable?
  • Can the entire figure be viewed at one time?
  • Can the crew zoom in to read details on the figure?
  • Is it easy to move quickly to specific locations (e.g., to the beginning of a section, or to recently visited locations)?
  • Are active regions (e.g., hyperlinks) clearly indicated?
  • Is it easy to move between documents quickly?
  • Is it easy to tell what document is currently in view?
  • Is there a list of available documents to choose from?
  • Can crews search the document electronically?
  • Is the search technique adequate?
  • If animation is supported, does the crew have adequate control over it?
  • Can the crew start and stop the animation as needed?
  • Is there a text description of the animation that describes its contents (so the crews know its contents without running the segment)?
  • Is printing supported? If so, is it adequate?
  • Can crews select a portion of a document to be printed?
  • Is the hard copy usable?
  • Can the crew terminate a print job immediately, if necessary?
These criteria have been developed as the result of research into human factors in the use of electronic documents in EFBs by the Human Factors Division of the Office of Aviation Programs at the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. Knowing these criteria in advance can help an aircraft operator in preparing for approval. However, I believe that operators can benefit from a more detailed set of specifications in regard to the interface to electronic documents. Section 6.3.1 of the S1000D standard provides rules and guidance for the look and feel, and printed output from an Interactive Electronic Technical Publication (IETP). Section 6.4.1 defines a functionality matrix for IETPs to be used as an aid for defining requirements for S1000D projects. The functionality matrix leverages the US Department of Defense (DoD) long experience in defining class 1 to 5 IETMs with military specifications MIL-PRF-87268 and MIL-PRF-87269. For example, in the area of searching, the S1000D functionality matrix provides very detailed guidelines that go beyond the simple criteria "Can crews search the document electronically?" and "Is the search technique adequate?". The matrix breaks down searching functionalities into:

  • Full-text search
  • User-defined Boolean search
  • Search across multiple databases and files
  • Context search
  • Keyword search

Publishing EFB electronic documents in XML provides many benefits over the Adobe® PDF format. Key enabling technologies for XML-based EFB electronic documents are: ISO Schematron, XSLT, XSL FO, XLink, XPointer, XInclude, and XQuery. For quality assurance, the electronic documents application should be subjected to rigorous unit testing and functional testing before its release to flight crews. A content management system can help an operator by providing features such as workflow routing, versioning, document locking, access control, and full audit trail of modifications made to documents.

The Air Transport Association (ATA) has adopted S1000D as the next generation aircraft digital data standard and there is already a very close collaboration between the ATA and the S1000D TPSMG to harmonize commercial aviation technical data requirements with S1000D. That collaboration should be extended to electronic documents for EFBs to allow aircraft operators to leverage and influence the development of the S1000D IETP functionality matrix for better guidance on creating the paperless cockpit.

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