Emirates incident highlights electronic flight bag human factors

By Kieran Daly

The recent near-catastrophe in which an Emirates Airbus A340-500 was almost lost on take-off after the first officer misentered the aircraft's weight by a single digit in the electronic flight bag has highlighted the human factors issues associated with this new technology.

That incident at Melbourne was only the latest of several known cases involving widebodies, and insiders say similar errors on narrowbodies are even more common but go unreported because of their greater performance margins.

Dan Pendergast of Arinc says: "Regarding Emirates or any other case, even though certain technology was involved, usually there are multiple factors and you cannot point at any one part as a major factor.

"One of the roles of the EFBs is to improve safety - to try to automate as many things as possible that could be subject to human error and could contribute to an accident.

"I think the industry in general should view this technology as a way, just like ACARS [datalinking], to reduce pilot workload and we have to be very careful as an EFB is implemented, in how it is presented to the crew and how much work they have to do on it. It is a powerful tool."

Joe McGoldrick, chief executive of Aircraft Management Technologies, stresses the importance of cross-checking, saying that, with his company's software, "at key points in the flow the captain has to sign off what the first officer entered".

Lufthansa Systems highlights the robustness generated by a heavily integrated EFB, which makes it more likely that a data error will be caught due to its incompatibility with other data. Marc Szepan, senior vice-president airline operations solutions, says: "In our take-off performance module, if you enter a weight value that is not possible or the aircraft is not certified then the module would not allow it.

"The value of the EFB, if you have a fully integrated EFB solution in which everything talks to each other, is that there is much richer potential for cross-checking. If you have a fully integrated EFB then in the take-off performance module where you entered, say, 250t instead of 280t, it will cross-check with the weight and balance module which has determined that related to the zero-fuel weight and the number of passengers it would not work and the warning will flash up.

"We have tried in as many ways as possible to leverage that possibility with some fairly sophisticated cross-checks that provide the maximum degree of check against values that are not realistic."

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