12. EFB Safety

In many instances, EFBs have largely replaced their paper counterparts in the cockpit. They have graduated from oddity to full time flight critical components. As a result of their criticality to many flights, we must examine in detail their failure modes and plan for these potential failures. A failure in an EFB means an inability to access the data you require. There are three main failure modes:

  • Power failure

  • Failure due to heat

  • Absence of data

12.1. Power

An EFB is a battery operated device. Batteries have limited capacity. Therefore, we must plan for the limited battery lifetime of an EFB. The easiest way of prolonging battery life in a portable EFB is to plug into the aircraft power supply via (usually) a USB power adapter. If this is not possible, you can carry one of the many USB power packs. These can dramatically extend the useful period of your EFB. Finally, you can practice a ‘power up’ minimisation strategy for your EFB. This might be to use it as takeoff and landing and only intermittently while enroute to check your current position by reference to the map and the ground.

One of the major battery drains is the screen backlight, therefore if you lower your screen brightness to the minimum usable level this can drastically reduce power consumption and increase battery life.

12.2. Heat

EFBs can rapidly heat up if placed on the black dashboard and an aeroplane in the midday (Australian) sun. If the device gets too hot it results in a shutdown of the device while it cools off. To alleviate this condition, avoid placing the device in direct sunlight, or if that is unavoidable, try to direct some air onto the back of the device. If you exit the aircraft while (while refuelling for example) place the device somewhere out of direct sunlight.

12.3. Data

Arguably the most likely failure mode is lack of data. This could be because the app crashes unexpectedly or the data just isn’t loaded into the app. Maps and aeronautical data are loaded in an on-demand scheme. If you have a good network (read - you are at home), then as you change maps or access ERSA pages, the data is loaded seamlessly and you hardly know it’s happening. However, if you have ‘gone bush’ and you are sitting under the stars with no network and you have not downloaded your maps and data you will see nothing, nix, nada, zip, butkus, zero, zilch, diddly-squat. Or, at best, a ‘holey’ map. So, to avoid this embarrassment in front of your flying friends, always download your maps and data that are required for a given trip. That means going to Settings → Downloads → (your region) and downloading everything you need. Be especially careful when leaving for a long trip in which the AIRAC cycle will switch over. Look at the top of the country page in downloads and see if there are two date panels (one in the future). If the future date is during your trip tap that and download the maps and any other data (e.g. ERSA) that you require for the duration of the trip. A good practice, while in the peace and quiet of your home, is to download all of the ERSA and Approach Plates - it’s not that much data on a fast network. For basic VFR maps, download the WAC, Open Street Map, Hybrid VFR, Planning Chart and ERC Low National. Also download the required Terrain Data (at the bottom). Download all of the ERSA.

12.4. Backup

It is foolhardy not to carry some backup if you are using an EFB. This can be in the form of another EFB or paper. Don’t rely on a single EFB.