The popular Apple iPad tablet computer, embraced by business and general aviation pilots for its numerous flight applications, low cost and ease of use, is catching on in the more structured environment of airline flight decks.
In the last year, Alaska Airlines issued iPads to 1,400 pilots and United Continental committed to distributing the devices to 11,000 pilots, in both cases to reap the weight and fuel savings gained from eliminating paper manuals and charts from the flight deck. American Airlines took the utility of the tablet one step further, winning approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use iPads for digital charts and manuals in all phases of flight, including takeoff and landing.
Involved in each of these efforts was Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen, which has embraced the iPad as an ideal storage and display platform for its navigation software products when used as an electronic flight bag (EFB). Jeppesen officially is “neutral” as to platform technology, as it works with established EFB hardware manufacturers, but it has nice things to say about the newcomer from the consumer electronics world.
“What we find in the iPad is a really superb platform,” said Rick Ellerbrock, Jeppesen chief strategist for aviation. “It’s just ideally made for this kind of application for a number of reasons. The form factor, the cost, the robustness, the stability, the readability, the display characteristics are outstanding. It’s got a nice infrastructure for delivering electronic content.”
Alaska Airlines was first to deploy iPads to all pilots for use in storing and displaying operations documents, but not for access during critical flight phases. American Airlines was first to be approved for an evaluation program for enhanced iPad use, the first to launch a formal evaluation with line pilots and the first to receive authorization from the FAA to use iPads as Class I EFBs in all flight phases on its Boeing 777s.
The FAA requires that pilots secure or stow Class 1 EFBs not attached or mounted to the aircraft during critical flight phases. Those with Type B software for electronic charts may be used, but must be “secured and viewable during critical phases of flight and must not interfere with flight control movement.” American Airlines pilots secure the iPad to the forward chart holder with an FAA-approved securing mechanism, details of which remain proprietary, First Officer Hank Putek told AIN.
In obtaining the FAA’s authorization, the airline previewed a version of the Mobile TC Pro application Jeppesen plans to launch for the commercial aviation market in the second quarter, said Chris Kiley, senior manager of web and mobile solutions. The company estimates there are eight to 10 airlines around the world that are actively pursuing authorizations from their local authorities to use iPads, and many more are interested. Notably, most of the airlines now seeking approval plan to use the iPad as a Class 2 EFB–a device that is mounted and connected to the aircraft.
Jeppesen believes the utility of using iPads on airline flight decks will only grow with new applications. “We have lots of vision for where this kind of product can go,” Ellerbrock said. “It gets into some interesting regulatory discussions. But the reality is, just based on the merit of that computing platform, there’s significant potential to integrate it into the flight deck. We’re just touching the tip of the spear here.”