Sunday, May 3, 2015

IPads, Surface Tablets and other electronic devices for PILOTS!

Last week you may have read an account of American Airlines flights being delayed because of a flaw with the pilots' I pads.  This may have raised a question in the minds of many non-pilots and airline travelers.  "What the heck are pilots doing with I pads?"

In short; saving fuel, being more effective, safer and healthier, that's what.  Since I have been flying, carrying "pubs" with you has been automatic.  Sometimes it's a lot of publications, sometimes it's just a few.  Lately, my "flight bag" has become enormous because of all of the airports we fly into, and that's just in North America!  There have been on the job back injuries as a result of hefting these bags into the cockpits.  
American Airlines uses an iPad in place of paper versions of charts.
An example of the sometimes over 40 lbs of paper publications that we are required to carry with us on every flight!  Compare that to the I pad.
Moreover, the weight of these bags translates directly into more fuel expended.  Then there are the dreaded multiple updates that take up hours of our time, ripping out old pages and inserting new ones in.  Sometimes in the course of doing this, we can inadvertently tear out a good page, fail to insert the new one and find ourselves without the proper document when we need it (not to mention carrying around "hole reinforcements" to stick over the torn and worn out holes in the pages.  Flipping pages to get to the proper chart when in the course of flying is not the easiest thing to do either. 

American airlines was the first to make the switch to what we call EFB's (electronic flight bags). In 2013, they became the first major commercial airline to use tablets in all cockpits, replacing the bulky, 35-pound plus stacks of paper reference materials and manuals that pilots normally wheeled around airports and into cockpits.

We use an FAA app developed by Jeppesen (the same company that prints the paper charts) that contains terminal maps and other information used in flight planning. My company has been working on this and promising this for us for over six years. Finally, this summer, we will begin using them and replacing our bulky, trashed flight bags and be able to instantly update the pubs and charts, not to mention save fuel and our backs.
Why did it take so long? Well, the FAA (need I say more) has to approve the device and how it is to be used. They have to be tested and then procured. The mounting devices are another issue altogether. Our company initially started testing I pads, then switched to Surface tablets because of a better perceived functionality. That process re-set the whole evaluation and approval process.  The most recent delay is now from the manufacturer, who cannot meet our timeline.  The distribution has been pushed back from May to July.  

Needless to say, I cannot wait for these tablets to arrive. My back will appreciate it,

Below I have several links that address the specific issue with American Airlines' problems. It is minor, and was fixed immediately.  Frankly, there are so many other issues that can delay flights that this is really a non problem and we pilots welcome the transition to tablets and paperless flying.