While they have typically gone with proprietary tech, Delta has begun testing some off-the-shelf tablets for use as “electronic flight bags” for their pilots. The test program has 22 iPads flying the friendly skies, giving pilots access to flight charts, equipment manuals, and in-flight WiFi in a 1.6lb package.
Delta thinks that having iPads onboard will make for stronger communications between the flight and ground crews. They hope to be able to push up-to-the-minute information to flights from the control center, leaving the flight crew better able to handle changes in flight path, weather, and the occasional emergency.
Each iPad has a specific loadout of flight-related applications, from Jeppesen flight charts to rest period calculators, but Delta SVP Steve Dickson has stated that pilots are able to “download additional apps that customise the product and lend to Delta’s capabilities.” While the iPads are obviously meant strictly for operational use, I get the feeling that there will be at least one pilot who decides to download Angry Birds at cruising altitude.
Now before anyone gets too worried about iPads screwing with aviation instruments, the 50 evaluation pilots are bound by the same restrictions that we normal folk are: the tablets are only to be used pre-flight and when the plane is above 10,000 feet.
The iPads will remain in the field until September, when they will be swapped out for a fleet of Motorola XOOMs. Yes, the iOS/Android debate will be taking to skies, and Delta has currently exploring a third tablet option just to make sure they’ve covered all the bases. Here’s an idea: maybe they can partner up with Best Buy and give a home to all those unloved HP TouchPads.