FAA Approves Pilot Use of iPads In The Cockpit

One of the top complaints of an air-traveling techie is the FAA requirement of turning off electronic devices for takeoff and landing. It’s inconvenient to power down and put them away, and doesn’t seem like our modern electronic devices are capable of causing any type of flight disturbance. Last month, the FAA approved use of  iPads in the cockpit in all phases of flight. This means that the pilots flying the airplane can be on an iPad when the passengers are disallowed.

It may seem counter-intuitive to give a tech gadget to the pilots in the cockpit, adding one more item to monitor in an already complicated cockpit. However, as a pilot wife blogger, as well as a tech blogger, I’d like to talk about how this is an exceptionally helpful move on the FAA’s part.

On the actual airplane, the flight deck has everything required to fly the plane – throttles, yokes, gauges and switches. It is the responsibility of the flight crew to be prepared for all contingencies. When you see a pilot walking around an airport, he usually has a large case like this hooked onto his suitcase. Inside the case, there are flight operations manuals, maps, charts, headsets, earplugs, writing utensils, calculators and anything else he or she may need while in flight. Depending on the amount of charts and manuals the pilot is required to have at all times, the flight case alone can easily weigh over 50 pounds.

Once in the cockpit, the maps and charts needed for flight are taken out of the case for accessibility in flight. There are thousands of pages in the flight manuals, and they must be updated regularly. My husband spends hours of his layovers on his “revisions,” pulling out pages and replacing them. It’s time consuming and annoying for the pilots, and expensive for the airlines to constantly print and distribute these important updates. Airlines have been trying to find a suitable alternative for an electronic flight bag for several years.

In early 2011, the FAA approved the Apple iPad, with a specified software application, as an approved alternative to paper charts. Not only has the iPad been approved for aviation use, it requires no major design changes. The FAA approval process included demonstrating that an iPad could endure a rapid decompression from a simulated altitude of 51,000 feet and still provide critical navigation data. Not only is the iPad portable, durable, and lightweight, chart revisions are instantaneous and it only weighs 1.8 pounds.

Throughout 2011, several airlines began testing the iPad in the cockpit during certain phases of flight, and the feedback from the flight crews has been overwhelmingly positive. Now that the FAA has approved use of the iPad from takeoff to touchdown, I believe there will be a high percentage of iPad integration throughout the industry. If full adoption of the iPad (or a similar future device) occurs, it’s very likely that the bulky flight bag will be a thing of the past.

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