American Airlines First To Be Granted FAA Approval For Pilot iPads

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If you’re flying American on Friday, there’s a chance your pilot will be using an iPad instead of the traditional paper flight charts. The airline has reportedly become the first major one to get FAA approval for the device, though smaller charter lines have had it for a while. American announced their intention to make the switch back in June, joining Alaska and Delta and probably a few others by now.

There’s been a bit of a dust-up regarding the actual fuel savings. And while they’re miniscule, airlines are continually trimming things down and the loss of 35 pounds of charts from every plane in a fleet adds up quickly: American estimates over a million dollars a year. Not only that, but as Delta hopes, the iPad (or Xoom) will also improve communications and flight quality.

What’s missing from the report is what software exactly will be used, and whether it will be standardized across airlines, whether it’s private, open, airline-owned, licensed, or what. While it’s not important for the average flyer, who probably didn’t know the pilots carried around 40 pounds of charts with them in the first place, it should probably be at least publicly accessible information to some extent. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this, though, and we’ll see about finding out more.

If you’re worried that the devices are going to succumb to death grip, battery failure, or glitches, don’t be. The devices have undergone a six-month test period with thousands of hours of flight time, and at any rate, chances are if the one in the cockpit bites it, there will be a few spares in first class.

Update:

An American Airlines pilot has kindly provided more information (not secret by any means, but interesting) on this news. AA is certainly using JeppTC, as a commenter suggested they were. It’s actually available in the App store, but licensed pilots (and presumably those from specific airlines) have access to extra charts.

By charts, our pilot informant wishes to emphasize that it’s not just a big book. There are a number of binders covering departures, approaches, runways, operating manuals, and so on. And they must be kept up to date with biweekly inserts, which mine informant describes as “a pain in the ass” and taking hours, whereas the iPad app is automatically updated.

The iPads (and AA is sticking with iPads, the FAA has not approved any other devices, though Delta is looking at Android ones) must have backup batteries, and although I was joking about requisitioning a passenger’s iPad, it could be done if they had internet access.

It is also worth noting that these charts are duplicated per pilot, meaning that on a transatlantic flight you may have four such chart bags, which must be as much a drag on the cockpit’s closet space as it is on fuel consumption. Some paper will still be carried; the iPad program is voluntary, and some navigational charts are not yet considered good enough on the iPad and must still be carried.

Thanks very much to our tipster, who wished to remain anonymous.