Microsoft's popular and highly-regarded Surface Pro 3 could well be soaring to new heights soon, as the company has announced that the tablet has qualified for authorization to be used as an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), under conditions defined by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
EFBs replace the heavy and bulky paper documentation that airline pilots must carry with them on board, which includes flight navigational charts, aircraft technical reference materials, and other important information that may be needed in flight. In their paper form, EFBs can weigh around 15kg or more, and this is not just a burden for pilots to carry, but also adds weight to the aircraft.
When American Airlines replaced its EFBs with Apple iPads in 2012, the carrier estimated that the weight reduction of ditching the paper in favor of the much lighter tablet would save around $1.2m a year in aircraft fuel consumption each year. Last year, Delta Airlines began its own EFB program - part of plans to switch to paperless cockpits across its fleet by the end of 2015 - and opted for Microsoft's Surface 2 tablet as its preferred device for pilots.
Microsoft has been working with partners in the aviation industry to prepare for the Surface Pro 3's approval for in-flight operations. One example of this is a specially designed mount for the tablet, created by navAero, which allows it easily connect to onboard power and data systems on the flight deck.
Microsoft says that the mount uses "the same single connection found on the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station - allowing [the device] to plug directly into the plane's electronics through a unique interface to provide simultaneous power, data and display connectivity through one simple connection." It adds that pilots will enjoy "automatic updates to navigational and operational content and access to critical real-time information like weather, wind and turbulence data."
The device can also be easily removed from the mount for pilots to take away and use as their own personal tablet.
In addition to the mount, Microsoft has also highlighted the FliteDeck Pro app - developed by Jeppesen, and available for Windows 8.1 - which "allows pilots to view their digital charts side-by-side with other data, such as gate information or real-time weather."
Along with the split-screen multi-app view that the tablet - like other Windows devices - offers, Microsoft clearly believes that it has the ideal EFB solution for forward-thinking airlines.