American Airlines Approved for iPad in All Flight Phases

 - December 16, 2011, 9:42 AM
United Continental planned to distribute Apple iPads to 11,000 pilots by the end of the year. (Photo: United Continental)

American Airlines pilots said the airline received approval from the FAA last week to use Apple iPad tablet computers for digital charts and manuals in all phases of flight, including takeoff and landing, making American the first carrier to use iPads in the cockpit for expanded capability.

The airline will use the iPad on its Boeing 777s as a Class 1 electronic flight bag (EFB), described by the FAA as a portable, commercial off-the-shelf computing device that is not attached or mounted to the aircraft. The approval covers a Class 1 EFB running Type A and Type B software applications for electronic manuals and charts, said First Officer Hank Putek, the airline’s EFB team lead, and a member of the Allied Pilots Association (APA) Safety Committee. The AFA serves as the collective bargaining agent representing 11,000 American Airlines pilots.

The FAA requires that crewmembers secure or stow Class 1 EFBs not attached or mounted to the aircraft during critical flight phases. Those with Type B software, including “dynamic, interactive applications,” may be used, but must be “secured and viewable during critical phases of flight and must not interfere with flight control movement,” states FAA draft advisory circular AC 120-76B, the latest guidance. American Airlines pilots secure the iPad to the forward chart holder with an FAA-approved securing mechanism, details of which remain proprietary, Putek said.

American Airlines is not the only commercial carrier to use iPads as EFBs, a practice that has proliferated in business aviation, where fleet operators including Flexjet, Executive Jet Management and CitationAir use the Apple device. Last spring, Alaska Airlines started issuing iPads to 1,400 pilots to replace paper manuals, largely as a weight and fuel-saving measure. United Continental started distributing iPads to 11,000 pilots in August, and it expected to complete the deliveries by year-end. In Europe, cargo carrier Amapola has received approval from the Swedish CAA to use the iPad as a Class 2 EFB—a device mounted and connected to the aircraft—on its Fokker 50 turboprops. British Airways in November said it will distribute iPads to 2,000 senior cabin crew for customer service applications.

Nevertheless, American Airlines’ enhanced use of the iPad, containing what Putek described as a “custom-built” version of Jeppesen’s Mobile TC Pro application software, demonstrates the growth potential of the device in commercial aviation. American started flight trials using digital manuals, a Type A application, in May 2010 and gained FAA approval to use the iPad as a Class 1 EFB shortly thereafter, Putek said. The airline began 777 flight evaluations for its latest approval on June 16 this year in Los Angeles. “The trials were flown to the Far East, Europe and domestically,” Putek said. “Literally thousands of hours and test points were gathered during the evaluation.”