Is It Really True The iPad Makes Flying More Fuel Efficient?

Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook made a lot of strong claims about how well Apple products are doing at today’s iPhone event. But one of those claims sounded like quite a stretch.

Cook talked about how the iPad is being used in many different places, such as schools and airplanes. Cook said “in the cockpit, pilots are using it. They are replacing 40 pound flight bags full of paper manuals and logbooks and navigational charts and checklists, making the pilot more efficient and making the plane more fuel efficient.” And for emphasis or perhaps the skeptics, he added “Yes, It’s True.”

It is true pilots are using iPads. In August, TechCrunch wrote about how Delta started in-flight testing. We’ve also covered some of the iPad new navigational software. These tools clearly make a pilot more efficient. But, can this really make planes more fuel efficient?

Instead of carrying a 40 pound flight bag, assume a pilot has a 1.3 pound iPad 2. Let’s be generous and say she doesn’t have one of those smart covers and has even decided to keep her flight bag at home. The iPad weight savings is 38.7 pounds or 77 pounds with a two-person, two-iPad cockpit.

A heavier plane takes more fuel to fly and less weight does create better fuel efficiency. But, the numbers per flight are tiny. What’s 77 pounds when the Boeing 757 maximum takeoff weight is 255,000 pounds.

The FAA says the average weight of a passenger with no carry on bags is about 186 pounds. [pdf] The average child weight is 78 pounds, about the same as the iPad savings.

Jet A fuel weighs 6.8 pounds per gallon. So the iPad weight savings is worth 11.3 gallons of fuel. A 757 burns 900 gallons of fuel an hour [pdf], so the weight savings would last just 45 seconds.

But there are a lot of flights. And those numbers quickly add up. United Airlines announced in August that it would deploy 11,000 iPads to all United and Continental pilots. United and its new partner Continental operate more than 21,200 daily flights. The company estimates it will save 326,000 gallons of jet fuel a year. That’s in addition to 16 million sheets of paper in those flight bags.

According to the airlines, the iPad is making flying more efficient. Yes, It’s True.