AVSIM Commercial FSX Utility Review

Electronic Flight Bag

Product Information

Publishers:  Aivlasoft

Description: Flight deck paperwork organizer and flight planner .

Download Size:
46 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Eduardo Ocampo AVSIM Staff Reviewer - February 9, 2010

Introduction

The flight bag is the aviation equivalent of a constructor’s tool box. Every responsible and dedicated pilot, from student pilots on their first flight to seasoned commercial heavy metal pilots; they all have their own flight bag and cherish within it the most sensible papers and tools for a safe flight. Think of it as a magic box; you can pull anything out of it and it will surely be a useful element. Maps, airway manuals, plotters, flight computers, aircraft and company manuals and even an oxygen mask (I got a story about that, by the way!) are some of the treats found in a real pilot’s flight bag.

Turns out the smart people at Aivlasoft noticed that there was not an add-on for MSFS that fulfilled the needs of the dedicated simmers that enjoy flying the virtual skies with all sorts of resources: detailed flight planners, airport and route charts, NOTAM’s, checklists, flight following tables, etc. The result? Aivlasoft’s Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), a software that provides everything you could possibly need to make your flights better planned and executed.

Being a pilot and a former flight dispatcher, I’ll give thumbs up to the add-on’s that have some sort of planning tools in it. For aircraft, for example, I grin when I see a weight and balance (now called weight and mass) and a fuel planner tool; real aircraft don’t roll out of the production line with “control+E” keyboard combinations…no, not even Airbuses.

This is why I absolutely loved this product and fell in love with it the second I saw it. It is 100% a planning tool, from way before getting on the airplane until the very end “Shutdown and securing checklist”. If you are a real pilot who also likes to sim, or if you’re a seasoned virtual pilot and enjoy planning everything properly, or if you want to take the venture to add a whole lot of realism into your virtual flying, this is one piece of software you will like. Trust me.

Enough talking! Let us introduce ourselves into this fine piece of add-on.

Test System

AMD Athlon 7750 Dual-core processor @ 2.71 GHz
4GB RAM
Nvidia GeForce 9500GT
Genius joystick

Flying Time:
11 hours

Installation and Documentation

Despite of what appears to be quite a complex program in its internal functioning (not on its use, though), installation is very simple and quick once you have the required software (specified both in the “EFB Installation and Configuration” handbook and at Aivlasoft’s website) and if you strictly follow the instructions with no flaw!

Your initial download comes with the zip package that contains the executable file that will install the EFB and the “EFB Installation and Configuration” manual to help you through the whole process. The product key will be delivered to you via e-mail. The “EFB Operations Manual”, which explains thoroughly the use of the software, is available at the Downloads section at Aivlasoft’s website. Thumbs up to Aivlasoft for preparing a superb documentation of their product.

There are two types of installation: “Single” installation and “Distributed” installation. The single installation will be your choice if you want to install the two components, the Data Provider and the Display Unit (whose functions will be explained later), in a single computer with single or multiple screens. The distributed installation will be performed if you have several computers interconnected through a local network.

Once you decide your installation type, the manual will guide you baby-step by baby-step to fully complete your installation. From now on, your only job here, as a good virtual (or perhaps a future real?) pilot is to comply with the instructions, given by both the wizard and the handbook, to the letter. If you do that, nothing unexpected (hopefully!) should happen.

Actually, both installation types are pretty much the same and it only changes a bit in the part when you decide which components, based on your installation type, you are going to install in the current computer. In any case, the handbook is explicit on this subject and will give complete instructions. So no need to worry.

Aivlasoft’s depiction of the different types of installation

By the way, since the EFB has airport and route charts, it needs a Navigraph cycle to run. One cycle, the 0911, is included with the package. So even if you don’t have a Navigraph subscription, you will be ready to fly with a relatively updated cycle. The cycle installation instructions are also given in the handbook.

The EFB’s first run needs to be done in a specific way. Pay attention to the steps given by the installation manual to make an optimum setup of the product. Start the Data Provider, put your license in (which, by the way, can be a 30-day fully operational demo license or your permanent product license), check or change your settings as you like and you are good to go.

The Data Provider and the Display Unit settings are extensive, but in all cases, easy and quick to make. Every option and message available is detailed on the manual so you know which option is the best for your individual needs and what every message you can get means.

Reading the handbook (I think you just guessed what I’m about to say here) it’s not only recommended, but highly encouraged (I’d say an obligation!), so you can prepare and use your EFB to get the most out of it. It has incredible features and it would be too bad if you’re not aware of them. Read the manual!

The EFB system

The EFB Data Provider

To provide the information, this software is composed of two major pieces: The Data Provider and the Display Unit.

The Data Provider is the core of the EFB since it acts as a CPU. It is linked to FSX and makes the connection between it and the Display Unit. Every command you make in the Display Unit is sent to the Data Provider which will “look” through FSX to respond to your initial command.

FSX On-screen menu

The Display Unit is the user interface. From here you will work with the different functions the EFB has to offer and it’s both the starting and the ending point for every request you make to the EFB system.

Now, on to serious things. Let’s discuss the functions of this software.

The Display Unit basically, has 4 “main”, functions. They are the “Route Setup”, “Airports”, “Modules” and “System” buttons; these are the default options available when you start the Display Unit. Let’s take a look at them. By the way, if all of the EFB components are on the same machine, you have the possibility to select the most important functions of the EFB directly from FSX via an On-screen menu.

Route Setup

A completed Route Setup menu, prior to route activation.

From this option you can manage everything related to your flight planning: Origin, destination and alternate (enroute and destination, as in real life) airports, cruise altitude, complete departure and arrival routes, planned airways and waypoints.

There are several ways to get your route on the EFB; you can load it up from a previously saved EFB route as well as an FSX route, you can also download a route from VATroute or Route Finder and, of course, you can make your own route either a “complex” one with SID’s and STAR’s (departure and arrival routes, for those unfamiliar with the terms), airways and alternates, or a “simple” one: origin airport direct to destination airport.

From the route setup you can also modify saved, downloaded or created routes at your will, save new routes for a next use, preview your routes both in text and in a map and most importantly, activate your route.

Once the route is activated, the “Progress” and “Flightlog” submenus become available for you.

Progress

This is a “Route dependant module” accessible when a route is active. From this module you can choose both your charts for the entire flight: Ground (origin), Departure, Enroute, Arrival, Approach and Ground (arrival). You can also select your checklist for a given phase of flight: Departure, Enroute and Arrival (more on this subject later on).

Wisely, Aivlasoft made the selection of charts and checklists as simple as it can be. Both of them are arranged chronologically, meaning that you can browse, for example, from the departure chart to the enroute chart with a simple click (or even with no click at all!). Same thing with the checklist, couple of clicks and you are on the new checklist; no more looking through lots of papers on your bed or desk with a jet aircraft descending at 3000FPM and 300 knots! Potential disasters, mon frère, lots of things tend to unfold while you look for the right paper...

By the way, if you can’t locate yourself in an airport ground chart that easily, there’s a function called “Moving map”, which will locate and show your aircraft in the chart and it will move to your heading changes, sort of like a GPS does. Maybe that could be used as an easier way of learning chart interpretation and airport navigation?

Aivlasoft’s scheme showing the chart auto-switch function.

If the “moving map” feature is activated, the charts will change automatically when an event programmed by default occurs. The sequence goes like this: Ground chart to departure to enroute to arrival to ground (destination) chart. The arrival to approach chart change-over is not automatic for several reasons; it needs to be done manually. Currently there’s an update in progress to make the switch automatically.

Checklists are coordinated with the flight phase selected on the Progress submenu to view the proper chart; if you select a “departure” phase of flight such as “Ground” or “Departure”, the “Departure checklists” like “Cockpit preparation”, “Before Start”, “Taxi” and “Before Takeoff” are available for selection.

The checklists feature has even more things to discuss; don’t worry, we’ll get there ;)

Flightlog

As in any real flight, a good keeping of a flightlog or “flight following” format works as a backup when all else has failed to ensure a rough estimate of your position. Plus, in commercial operations it is important to help keep the schedule on time. This is another feature the EFB has and may I say it was about time, since most simmers don’t keep a Flight Following format!

The flightlog will become available when you have an active route; it will fill up the respective information like waypoint, course and distance by itself taking the data from the active route you created/loaded/downloaded, and the other information like time over waypoint, altitude, ground speed, fuel on board and fuel remaining will complete itself once you fly over each waypoint. The EFB will inform you also of your maximum flight time by a simple formula with some data on the flightlog; this Max. Flight time is shown in the flightlog module.

The EFB flightlog with the Block-off time already set.

The flight will start timing if you have an active route and you have started the engines, or if you have already started your engines, it will start timing once you activate your route. For the sake of this review, the word “timing” refers to the “block-off time” which by regulation means “the time when the aircraft can move by its own means”. “Block” refers to the chocks put on aircraft when it is parked on a stand. By that explanation, I think you can figure out “block-on time” by yourself, right?

It is important to recall that in order to activate the flightlog system properly, the aircraft must be on the ground and the engines must be off. This is a piece of software for those who would like a bit more realism in their flights, and real world flights don’t start with the engines on and already airborne. Don’t slew either, that’s not realistic!

Following the train of thought, to finish the flightlog, i.e. set the block-on time, you should (as in a real airplane) turn your engines off. This will also be one of two steps required to make a new flightlog out of a new route; the other step is to activate your new route, and off we go again.

Charts

Having worldwide charts handy definitely has to be one of the most (if not the most) superb features on this software. Fortunately for us, the EFB charts contain a vast number of details and information so we can be well aware of where we are flying and how should we fly a certain procedure. Thumbs up to Aivlasoft for this. The charts resemble real world Jeppesen ones in their format, the type of information in them and how that information is shown. Good thing, because in my opinion Jepp charts are the best to fly with.

A good thing about the charts in this software is that you can actually select which communications frequencies you want to be displayed; so depending on where you are used to flying, you can select the exact services available in a specific area to be ready for you in the chart. This can be done on the EFB Settings menu, not on the Chart Submenu itself.

Moreover, whenever a frequency that you have set on the radio stack is equivalent to a frequency on the communications section of the chart, it will be shown by a specific background color; green if frequency is active, blue if frequency is stand by. Good for those with poor Situational Awareness ;)

The Mayfield 2 Juliet Standard Instrument Departure chart for London Heathrow.

Just as in the Jeppy, the EFB charts have a “Briefing Strip”, which encloses the primary information in the approach charts, making approach briefings more standard and quicker. The data on this Strip is: Primary navaid frequency (LOC, VOR, NDB), Inboard course, Final Approach Fix (or Point) crossing altitude, Decision height (or MDA, depending on the type of approach), runway elevation plus a short description of the Missed Approach procedure.

The approach charts also contain “descent information” which is a little box that shows you how high you should be at a given distance from a navaid near the airport. Other chart information includes a compass rose, a wind indicator which also shows tail-wind and cross-wind components (even real aircraft don’t have that!) and an aircraft’s speed and altitude readout.

The chart display has a toolbar on the bottom of the screen. The toolbar has icons to activate the Moving Map feature, to zoom in and out, move throughout the chart, to enter the full-screen mode and…it also has a couple of buttons that switches the chart presentation between “daytime” and “nighttime”. The “nighttime” presentation looks like someone turned off all the lights; the water and terrain looks darker.

The “Chart Options” button that becomes “XXXX YYYYY”, X being the ICAO code for the airport and Y being the phase of flight (ground, departure, arrival), when a route is activated has context sensitive options for every one of these phases. For instance, the XXXX “Ground” submenu has three options: “Airport Information”, “Select taxiways” and “Chart Objects”. The XXXX Departure submenu will have different options.

The “Airport Information” option contains data of the selected airport such as “General Info” (runway dimensions, elevation, surface), Communications, Navaids and Runways. Now, “Select Taxiways” is a nifty feature and definitely another thumbs-up to Aivlasoft for implementing these. Once you click on this option, a window pops out; this window contains the taxiways and runways for the whole airport plus two buttons “Taxi to RUNWAY” and “Taxi to PARKING”.

The Taxiway Selector function showing the taxiways for Singapore Changi airport.

So if you are flying your first flight in a major international airport and don’t want to get lost you push either one of the two buttons, select the assigned runway, the assigned taxiways, press OK and voilá! Your taxi route will be shown in the ground chart. In my opinion, this should be included in real aircraft; it would definitely help pilots and ATC on their workloads and prevent potential disasters!

Some add-on scenery airports may not be very compatible with this feature, but there are some guidelines in the EFB documentation to help the system run this tool smoother. Aivlasoft is also working on this subject, and they’ll be releasing an update to improve the functionality of the taxiway selector with add-on scenery.

As said before, the Departure chart submenu will have different options like “SID Overview” which lets you take a look at all of the SID’s available for any airport. You can choose which direction of the compass rose you would like to see the SID’s for: Departure North, South, West and East. From the Departure chart submenu you can also select the SID you’d like to fly with the “Select SID” option; the list of SID’s will be available for you depending on the runway you choose, sort of like you would do on an FMS. The Approach submenu has the same options.

The Chart Objects button will allow you to choose what things you would like to see in the chart like VOR’s, NDB’s and airports. Each chart has its own options.

The “Direct-to” function is pretty much like the one found on FMS and GPS. You can select which fix or navaid you would like to fly to, accept and there you go.

Checklists

Yet another thumbs-up for Aivlasoft; looking through a bunch of papers will be history thanks to this software. Checklists for each type you fly can be created and classified by phase of flight, like departure, enroute and arrival; each phase of flight can contain several checklists like “Before Start”, “Before Takeoff”, etc. Abnormal checklists can also be created; these are available to you anytime you want.

Each checklist item has the option to assign it to a specific flight crew member to take care of that item; it also contains a “Done” button, that upon clicking it will put a green tick next to the item, signaling it has been checked. Doing the Abnormal checklists feels like reading a real QRH (Quick Response Handbook)! All checklists are fully customizable, you can type them straight from the flight manual or you can make your own.

The checklist “library”, a normal checklist and an abnormal checklist. Got to love the abnormal checklist. True QRH style!

Library

Yes. You read it right. A files library. You can use the EFB to read some of your files, like flight manuals, websites, etc. Files supported by the EFB are .pdf, .rtf, .txt, .htm and .html. The EFB has a special folder created on installation dedicated to the storage of these files so they can be read in the EFB.

An example of the ability to sort your documents on the EFB library.

A good thing about the library is that you can sort your files in different folders. Think of this library as the My Documents folder in a Windows OS. So you can organize the files you have for, let’s say, the B737 in a folder, and the ones you have for the A320 in another one; you will have this same organization in EFB display itself. If I recall correctly, this is a feature similar to the one on the B787, its manuals will be accessible from the cockpit, with no need to go to the paper ones.

Updates

Aivlasoft has already released an update (version 1.0.2/SP2) and it’s available for download from their website, which fixes some minor issues. Service pack 3 is on final approach and it contains many little improvements that will make the EFB more enjoyable; it also contains a new feature: Checklists import and export capability in .xml files. This will enable users to share their checklists with others.

Aivlasoft plans to make a checklist database on its site, so users can download checklists for specific aircraft created by others.

Summary / Closing Remarks

From head to toe, a flight planning tool! Definitely something every dedicated simmer should have in his/her arsenal of software. Despite all of its functions, the EFB is easy to use and has a simplistic approach; very user-friendly.

The charts are definitely the strongest point of this software, although its other functions are equally powerful and useful. Adding to the fine piece of software they have produced, I found Aivlasoft support to be very effective and willing to help the customer; plus, their website seems to help to conclude what a dedicated company they are.

I would have loved to see this product for FS9, but given the different operating modes between FSX and FS9, I agree with Urs at Aivlasoft when he says that in his mind, it’s better to continue to improve the FSX version, instead of making the extensive tweaking needed to make the EFB run on FS9.

If you enjoy a planned flight in your sim with all the proper tools at hand, you will find this software tailor made for you.

 

What I Like About The Electronic Flight Bag

  • A flight planning tool!
  • Worldwide charts through Navigraph cycles
  • Detailed documentation
  • Easy to install and to use
  • All of your FS-related documents are accessible from the EFB library
  • Aivlasoft seems to be a dedicated FS software company

 

What I Don't Like About The Electronic Flight Bag

  • I don’t see anything I don’t like, do you?

 

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