August 19, 2022

The Paperless Cockpit

But instead of carrying all that paperwork, a growing number of pilots are carrying a 1.5 pound iPad.

The Federal Aviation Administration has authorized a handful of commercial and charter carriers to use the tablet computer as a so-called electronic flight bag. Private pilots, too, are now carrying iPads, which support hundreds of general aviation apps that simplify preflight planning and assist with in-flight operations.

“The iPad allows pilots to quickly and nimbly access information,” said Jim Freeman, a pilot and director of flight standards at Alaska Airlines, which has given iPads to all its pilots. “When you need to a make a decision in the cockpit, three to four minutes fumbling with paper is an eternity.”

Alaska Airlines received F.A.A. approval in May to permit its pilots to consult digital flight, systems and performance manuals on the iPad — cutting about 25 pounds of paper from each flight bag. The e-manuals include hyperlinks and color graphics to help pilots find information quickly and easily. And pilots do not have to go through the tedium of updating the manuals by swapping out old pages with new ones because updates are downloaded automatically.

In the next phase of what Alaska Airlines calls Operation Bye, Bye, Flight Bag, the carrier plans to petition the F.A.A. to use the iPad to read aeronautical charts, saving another five pounds of paper per pilot. Counting both the pilot and co-pilot, that would remove 60 pounds of paper from the cockpit — a significant savings not only in paper and printing costs but also in fuel because planes are that much lighter.

Because Apple’s tablet computer weighs less and is more compact than a laptop and its touch screen easier to manipulate, its introduction in 2010 made the move away from paper in the cockpit easier.

Switching to the iPad is also expected to reduce health care costs and absenteeism from shoulder and back injuries associated with hoisting heavy flight bags, said David Clark, pilot and manager of the connected aircraft program at American Airlines. “Cockpits are small, and lifting that thing up and over your seat causes damage, particularly when you consider a lot of pilots are over 40.”

American Airlines won F.A.A. approval last month for its pilots to use the iPad to read aeronautical charts. American received authorization last year to use the device instead of paper reference manuals. Executive Jet Management, a NetJets company owned by Berkshire Hathaway, received the F.A.A.’s permission in February for its pilots to read aeronautical charts on iPads.

Moreover, the F.A.A. said pilots at the two airlines would not have to shut off and store their iPads during taxiing, takeoff and landing because they had demonstrated that the devices would not impair the functioning of onboard electronics. Alaska Airlines pilots, like passengers, still have to put their iPads away during those critical phases of the flight.

“Each airline must submit a unique proposal on how they want to use the iPad and prove that both the device and software application are safe and effective for that proposed use,” said John W. McGraw, the F.A.A.’s deputy director of flight standards. Executive Jet Management, for example, had 55 pilots test the iPad on 10 types of aircraft to prove that it was reliable and that it would not interfere with flight instruments. The iPad was also subjected to rapid decompression at a simulated altitude of 51,000 feet.

Private and corporate pilots, however, do not have to go through the same approval process. According to F.A.A. regulations, they are responsible for determining what technologies are safe and appropriate for use in the cockpit. As a result, iPads are quickly becoming essential tools in planes ranging from Gulf Stream G650s to Piper Vagabonds.

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