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US Pilots using iPads

Pilots using iPad


Extreme airline travel technology, starring the iPad

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Last week, Evan Konwiser wrote about the wider impact on the travel industry following the official delivery of first Boeing 787 mid-size airliner to ANA.

This caused me to think in particular about how technology is deployed on aircraft. Those of us who travel frequently are more than familiar with the rules about controlling our electronic devices during flight.

But what about the folk up at the front, at the sharp end? What do they use and how do they use it?

Pilots have a lot of information at their disposal – charts and maps, a personal log book and those of the aircraft being flown.

They also have to deal with a vast quantity of manuals. An airline pilot often carries flight manuals weighing around 40 pounds, all contained in a flight bag.

The FAA (US Government Regulatory Authority) and other regulatory bodies around the world have started to realize that paper has to eventually be replaced with electronic devices.

[Official notifications from the FAA here]

These days the concept of an Electronic Flight Bag is well understood by pilots in all forms of aviation – military, commercial and civil non-commercial.

The idea of putting all that paper away and using a small computer is attractive in the confines of a small space such as an aircraft cockpit.

So, enter the humble Apple iPad.

It’s a perfect device for the replacement of paper. And now the FAA is approving its use in airline cockpits, with Alaska Airlines the first to deploy these device.

Now American Airlines and other carriers are rolling out thousands of iPads as replacements for the vast quantities of paper that comprise a pilots flight bag contents.

And its not just civilian pilots. Military applications are becoming quite interesting, too, with the US Marine Corps also getting involved.

Perhaps slightly creepy is that the US military is thinking of using iPads to control its infamous Drones. Given what this hardware is often used for, this a bit scary. But check out the video.

Nevertheless, safety is a big concern for any airline looking to switch paper for pixels. And there is, understandably, rigorous testing before deployment is authorized.

There is also the question of security. With most aircraft now “fly-by-wire” (controlled by electronics and software, rather than cables and levers) there are issues that still concern many within the industry.

These relate to technical malfunctions, malicious breaches of software and controls, costs, etc. Here is a link to a series of papers from American Airlines, Airbus and others – albeit from 2009 – which illustrate some of the issues.

Interestingly, the Boeing 787, Airbus A380 and the next generation of aircraft will have connectivity built in rather than the bolt-on modifications currently being undertaken.

Nevertheless, the replacement of paper and the use of an advanced devices are changing how we manage our everyday lives, with the control of aircraft no different.

And now the humble iPad is being deployed for a large number of different activities – as well as managing the airplanes we travel in every day.

Interestingly, I wonder how those sexy pilots and stewardesses of yesteryear, such as those featured (or parodied?) in new TV show Pan Am (Sorry non-US viewers cant see the show yet) would have thought about this technology.

I’m iPad – Fly me.