In MAF’s eastern D.R. Congo program we are starting to make the transition to an “electronic flight bag” system, which will leverage technology to reduce the pilots’ paper load, and centralize information flow. While we’re just in the early stages of the project, the idea is that the process will work something like this:
Each of our pilots has an iPad. Flight documents are generated by our flight scheduler using Wingman, a flight operations planning tool developed by MAF. These documents are stored in a shared folder on our server. Additional documents including manuals, airport strip charts, airstrip photos, and other important references are available in electronic form.
In the morning before a pilot takes off on his first flight he connects to the wireless network with his iPad, and synchronizes it with the file server. In mere seconds he has all the flight documents he needs for the day. He taps a link, and pulls up the latest weather satellite photos. Maybe he even fires off a last-minute email before heading to the plane.
Throughout the day, all the flight documents are filled out electronically. Signatures are captured by signing on the iPad touchscreen with a finger or stylus. If an airstrip chart needs to be updated, a proposed change can be annotated in the document. If the plane has a mechanical problem, the pilot can type in a search term and quickly find the relevant section of the manual.
At the end of the day the pilot connects his iPad to the wireless network, and syncs again. All the completed documents are sent to the server where everyone who needs to work with them has access, and where they will be backed up.
You might be wondering what the point is in all this. Well, it’s our hope that by implementing new information technologies–wireless networks, servers, databases, and iPads—our operations will become more streamlined and efficient. With the electronic flight bag system in place pilots will spend less time doing paperwork, information will be more easily accessible, and records will be stored securely. It will also free up a bit of weight and space in the cockpit. Ultimately we hope it helps us to better serve the partners we fly, and the people of Congo.
I’ve been an airline pilot for about 25 years, and only recently – the last 5 years or so – have been using an EFB…Electronic Flight Bag…in my job. It lightens my load, both literally and figuratively. And it’s a great organizational tool. When I worked as an MAF pilot in Latin America, the only computer I had was a Compaq word processor – great for prayer letters to supporters but not very capable otherwise. And I didn’t have Internet access until 9 years after leaving MAF. But the iPad, as well as other digital technology, is a real blessing to God’s servants in the field. It allows a level of communication and information transport that was unheard of just 20 years ago. I’m so glad that today’s information-age MAFers have it available to lighten their load.