American Airlines pilots testing tablet computers
BY D.R. STEWART World Staff Writer
Friday, June 17, 2011
Pilots at American Airlines have begun a six-month program testing hand-held tablet computers that provide access in the cockpit to electronic flight, airport and operations data, company executives said.
Authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration, the “electronic flight bag program” enables pilots to receive instantaneous updates on takeoff, routing, approach, landing and emergency procedures.
Instead of carrying the paper charts and documents — as pilots have for years — in a flight bag weighing up to 35 pounds, cockpit crews can retrieve the same information on a 1.5-pound Apple iPad tablet computer, airline officials said.
“This will revolutionize cockpits for our pilots,” said American spokeswoman Andrea Huguely. “Pilots will be able to carry operations manuals digitally, charts for worldwide locations, emergency checklists and current flight information.
“This is one of those things that goes hand-in-hand with airspace modernization and instrument flight procedures. It makes a much better work environment for our pilots.”
American’s Los Angeles-based Boeing 777 pilots began testing the tablet computers Thursday.
Pilots on two daily flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo, Japan, and Los Angeles to Shanghai, China, are authorized to test the iPad computers during all phases of flight, officials said.
Hank Putek, an American pilot and member of American’s Allied Pilots Association Safety Committee, has led the union’s efforts to develop and deploy electronic flight bags.
American and APA began conferring with the FAA about the program in 2006, officials said.
“American Airlines has now become the first to deploy iPads with an electronic-charting solution,” Putek said. “By eliminating bulky flight bags filled with paper, EFBs mean less weight for pilots to carry, reducing the possibility of injury on duty. In addition, they enable pilots to immediately download updates, rather than waiting for paper versions of required documents to be printed and distributed.”
American executives estimate that if iPad tablet computers were deployed — and traditional 35-pound flight bags eliminated — in cockpits throughout its system, the company would save $1.2 million a year in fuel expenses alone. The company also would reduce its paper printing and distribution costs, executives said.
Putek said he is proud APA and American are leading a program that could transform the airline industry.
“With the recent announcement that Alaska Airlines will soon be issuing IPads to all of that carrier’s pilots to serve as EFBs, it’s clear that American Airlines stands at the forefront of a significant industry trend,” Putek said. “I’m extremely pleased that APA was able to play a role in bringing this effort to fruition.”
American’s Huguely said the Apple iPad is the only tablet computer the FAA has approved for use in the testing program.
“It doesn’t mean that once other tablets are developed and released that we wouldn’t use them,” Huguely said. “We will evaluate them, but they would have to be approved by the FAA.”