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ICIS: Integrated Crew Information System

Marcia Shamo, Avionitek
Kim O'Neil
Advanced Aviation Technology Ltd.
(First published April 2000)


Complete, accurate, and timely information is critical for effective and efficient task performance in the high-risk cockpit environment. In civil aviation, the list of incidents and accidents in which incomplete, inaccurate, or delayed information plays a role is too long. Critical information can be buried in ambiguously organized text. In one accident, for example, the crew's inability to locate the correct emergency procedure was determined to be a significant contributing factor to the fatal outcome. The accident report stated that "the crew apparently believed that the procedure was in the abnormal section, when it was actually in the emergency section". Crews need immediate access to the right information; access only possible with digital, integrated information. Providing integrated information support in the cockpit is now possible with ICIS - an Integrated Crew Information System. Essential information can be rapidly and efficiently provided without burying flight crew in masses of inaccessible paper and manuals.

1. Introduction

Pilots, airlines, and the aviation industry recognize that digital, integrated supplementary flight information is a growing necessity, and the definition of requirements for these integrated information systems is progressing. These systems, sometimes termed Electronic Flight Bags (EFB), will offer immediate retrieval of supplemental flight information such as manuals and checklists. In addition, the EFB will provide functions not possible with paper such as moving maps, normal and abnormal performance calculations, near real-time weather, terrain, and other situation displays. In this role, the EFB becomes the crew's interface for all flight deck tasks outside those provided by the primary flight displays. As a repository of information supporting flight crew performance, the EFB has enormous potential to play a central role in the cockpit, including decision support for effective task performance.

Ideally this integrated system will also communicate with other aircraft systems and servers, and with the ground for updated information at all times. The final goal is a fully integrated 'paperless' cockpit - fully digitized and immediately updateable by wireless communications link. The quality of information in the paperless cockpit can be significantly enhanced: information can be integrated, immediately accessible, and filtered so that only relevant data is presented.

The potential efficiency and cost-benefits of the paperless cockpit concept are important to all segments of the commercial aviation industry. Pilots can shed their cumbersome flight bags and no longer have to spend hours updating manuals, the airline's manual maintenance and updating process can be considerably streamlined. Each flight can be made safer and more efficient by accurate, integrated, and complete supplementary flight information that is immediately available to each pilot via their own personal display unit, to support the performance of individual and team tasks.

2. The Way Ahead

The continuing challenge for avionics manufacturers is to develop systems that have both usability and flexibility - on an open platform of commercial software and hardware - coupled with the high integrity and robustness of cockpit avionics necessary for information accuracy. Developing a complete and integrated information system having ground support, data transfer, and on-board components will lead to a quantum leap in efficiency and safety, both in the air and on the ground. The flight crew will then have the complete, accurate, and timely information they need to carry out their tasks.

3. Integrated Crew Information System - ICIS

This article describes a system that meets the requirements for a digital supplemental flight information system. This system is ICIS - Integrated Crew Information System. The ICIS includes an on-board segment, an air-ground link, and a ground segment for a complete system.

The ICIS on-board is a powerful PC-based platform with the flexibility to simultaneously support multiple cockpit applications. The on-board ICIS Crew Units (ICUs) provide a single source for all the supplementary and situation information the crew needs for safe and efficient flight, such as checklists and manuals, moving maps and charts, take-off and landing speeds calculations, EGPWS, and more. This soon-to-be FAA-certified system ensures software and hardware integrity and information accuracy wherever necessary, while built-in protection allows the simultaneous display of other non-safety critical applications.

The air-ground link segment will use various communication channels (ACARS, VHF datalink, SATCOM, Gate-link) to enable the efficient transfer of digital information between the aircraft and the ground.

The ground segment of the ICIS provides a safe and efficient means for maintaining and updating the information, and for distribution to the aircraft.

4. ICIS On-board

The ICIS on-board consists of integrated personal display devices, one for each crew member, that communicates via a dedicated Ethernet LAN (ELAN). The on-board units are powerful hardware devices that use PC technologies and comply with stringent avionics standards. These units include a Pentium processor, large disk and memory capacities, and a large, high-resolution, sunlight-readable color display. The on-board ICIS units comply with the environmental requirements of RTCA/DO-160D, as defined for cockpit operation.

For cockpit safety applications the units run Avionitek's proprietary ICIS Operating System (IOS). The on-board ICIS units can also run standard PC software using the Windows 95, 98, or NT operating systems, enabling commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software to be used for rapid development of non-essential cockpit applications.

The capability to run two different operating systems simultaneously is a unique and powerful capability of the on-board unit that will enable the implementation of COTS applications for non-critical tasks and IOS for safety-critical tasks.

ICIS in 777 Cockpit

The ICIS was designed for the pilots' ease of use. Interacting with the unit requires no more than pushing buttons, and no need for dexterity with mouse or stylus. Display screens are customized to ensure similarity with the airline's information formats, so training time is minimized.

5. Functions

There are many functions that may be supported by ICIS, ranging in complexity from a simple 'page viewer' to flight planning and communication as well as checklist, performance and take-off calculations. Typical functions include:

  • Electronic libraries of flight manuals
  • Procedures (Normal, abnormal, emergency)
  • Flight Information (Flight planning, Performance, Minimum Equipment List, Weight & Balance calculations)
  • Situation displays (weather, terrain and obstacles, moving maps, traffic, aircraft system status)
  • Communications

Details for some of the major functions include:

5.1 Integrated Electronic Library System

The Electronic Library System contains all the cockpit manuals, checklists and procedures available today in paper format. The information in the ICIS is highly integrated and inter-linked to various subject-related data items. Information available in the ICIS can be easily accessed by means of three retrieval mechanisms: table of contents, index, and graphic location.

5.2 Checklists

The Normal Checklist application includes all normal checklist procedures in electronic format. User features such as checkmarks, shortcut keys, expanded information, skip, etc., are implemented to improve the safety and efficiency of the normal checklist. In addition to the normal checklist features, the Non-normal Checklist application includes automatic logic as an aid in the efficient and safe execution of complicated procedures.

5.3 EGPWS Display

The EGPWS application provides visual display capabilities for the aircraft's EGPWS system, and supports the top priority of the EGPWS's 'pop-up' warning display. Manual range selection is an additional feature of this application.

5.4 Weather

The Weather Application provides the crew with all weather information required during flight. Real-time weather will be updated at regular intervals and filtered to present only weather information relevant to a specific aircraft along its flight route. The weather viewer enables the crew to zoom in and retrieve almost any information offered by the weather information provider. Agreements are currently in progress with leading weather information providers.

5.5 Performance

Performance information (V speeds, Weight limitations, Engine power) is based on the manufacturer's graphs. ICIS performance calculations are comprehensive and include all limitations and restrictions according to individual airline policy.

5.6 Moving Map Display

The ICU can present maps and charts provided by third parties. Maps and charts will be synchronized with the aircraft position and flight phase. The Maps & Charts application is much more than a regular viewer. Once the maps and charts are available on-board in electronic format they are integrated with all navigation-related applications.

5.7 Communication

This application enables access to several communication channel available on-board: ACARS, other VHF Datalink, SATCOM, gate-link etc. In-flight information, such as weather parameters, NOTAMS etc. are directed automatically to the relevant built-in application. Messages to the crew are stored in the "Mail Box" and are displayed upon request. The Communication application can easily emulate the ACARS CDU available in the cockpit. The ICU, as a replacement of the CDU, has a larger and better display, more computation capabilities and in addition the ICUs are more optimally located for each crewmember. The CDU emulation by ICIS can provide improved dialog forms and additional enhanced functions.

6. Proof of Concept

ICIS has been subject to several evaluations to demonstrate the operational benefits that can be gained. In particular, ICIS was successfully examined by more than 250 line pilots at a major US airline in a broad-scale evaluation that included the use of ICIS in the simulator during normal and abnormal flight scenarios. The evaluation results showed that the ICIS significantly reduces crew workload, increases situation awareness, and improves flight safety. In addition to crew and flight safety benefits, ICIS improves efficiency and reduces the operational expenses of the airline by:

  • Reducing documentation update and distribution costs
  • Reducing printing costs
  • Optimizing take-off power settings
  • Enabling retrofit of classic aircraft
  • Reducing aircraft down time
  • Reducing required training time etc.

8. Aircraft to Ground Link

Digital information can be transferred between the aircraft and the ground via different communication channels:

  • ACARS - as exists on many aircraft but is strictly limited in its throughput.
  • High Speed VHF Datalink.
  • SATCOM - that will be more common in the future and will enter the World Wide Web communication network to the aircraft.
  • Gate Communication - for high throughput, low cost communication limited to the gate or airport area but suitable for large amounts of data updates.

As a result of the on-board high-speed Ethernet interconnections, all information, regardless of its received channel, can be shared and integrated into various on-board applications.

9. Ground Segment Overview

Information in the ICIS can be divided into two functional types:

a) Fleet Information consisting of all flight deck information applicable to the fleet, such as operation manuals, checklists (normal, abnormal and emergency procedures), area, approach and enroute charts, airport charts, maps etc.

b) Flight Information applicable to a specific flight such as weather information, NOTAMS, cabin information, and reports generated during the flight.

The ICIS ground segment provides the means required to prepare, manage, control and distribute the operator-modifiable on-board digital Fleet Information. The ICIS ground segment consists of the following Avionitek elements:

  • IMTS - Information Management Tool Suite, providing the tools required for updating all on-board fleet information.
  • IDS - Information Distribution System that distributes in-flight data received from the aircraft (via SITA, ARINC or other service providers) to the different airline users throughout the airline network system and visa versa.

10. Managing Flight Deck Information: IMTS

Avionitek's IMTS is a set of integrated tools that enable the airline to create, update and manage the information used by the on-board ICUs. All the Fleet Information (text, diagrams, charts, checklists, maps etc.) and data dedicated to a specific tail number are organized in the Fleet Database, which resides in the IMTS.

Similar to current manual updating processes, Subject Experts are responsible for the verification of the content and for the implementation of the subject-related hyperlinks. The information update process follows the existing process used for paper manual updates, with tools for the implementation of hyperlinks, revision change, and configuration management. The IMTS generates Revision Change Reports, which lists all changes since the previously released database.

The IMTS provides a structured environment for the controlled modification of operator-modifiable information. IMTS processes ensure that all modifications are carried out in accordance with regulatory requirements and guidelines for operator-modifiable fleet information and the modification of electronic checklists.

Avionitek's IMTS will enable the airline to treat the fleet's information as a single database. This database can be loaded to the on-board units, be published in different formats such as CD-ROM, Internet, or be published in paper format like the existing manuals. The ICIS ground segment will merge with the airline's existing infrastructure to aid in the seamless change from a paper-based to a digital-based information system.

11. Conclusions

ICIS is a fully integrated digital information and decision support system that can significantly improve the safety and efficiency of cockpit operations. New functionality brings improvements simply not achievable with burdensome paper systems. The modular construction of ICIS also means that its benefits are not just limited to the cockpit but can extend through out the airline's entire operation if desired. ICIS can bring widespread direct and secondary benefits to all aspects of airline and aircraft operations.

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Email: kim.oneil@aatl.net

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