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Apple’s iPad Gaining Ground in Airline Industry

 - February 14, 2012, 3:15 PM
Jeppesen's Mobile Flitedeck app is popular with iPad-equipped pilots.

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.”


We are a Part 135 operator that has obtained FAA approval to use iPads in all phases of flight. The article neglects to address corporate and Part 135 operators, for whom the benefits of electronic charting are even more substantial.

Most corporate aircraft have much smaller flight decks and much more limited storage space than airliners. Removing bulky paper charts frees up an incredible amount of storage space, as well as removing as much as 50 pounds of weight from the aircraft.

We currently use ForeFlight Mobile for domestic US charting needs, and Jeppesen Mobile FD for international operations. While we are generally satisfied, Jeppesen is currently the only provider of international data on the iPad. The enroute charting functions of the Jeppesen application leave some things to be desired - enroute frequency information is nowhere to be found, and all of the notes and general information boxes currently on the enroute charts have been buried in confusing menus. Some might argue that these oversights, and the fact that information is so much harder to obtain, are hazards to the safety of flight.

The application was clearly hurried into production and in my opinion it was "not ready for prime time." Jeppesen has not updated its application since 2011, and, given their total monopoly on international charting data, it's unlikely they see any need to respond to the needs of their customers.