American Airlines pilots to try out iPads as flight bags

American Airlines pilots began a test on two trans-Pacific flights Thursday in which they’ll keep their charts and other documents on iPads, making them “electronic flight bags.”

The six-month test is being conducted on American’s flights from Los Angeles to Shanghai and Tokyo Narita. The assumption is that the use will spread through the airline if the test works out okay.

Right now, pilots carry charts that lay out a flight’s path, plus carry all the other manuals and documents that pilots must keep with them.

The Allied Pilots Association, which has pushed for electronic flight bags, said the 1.5 pound iPads will “replace paper flight manuals easily weighing 35 pounds or more that pilots are required to carry while operating a commercial flight.”

You see the big black cases that pilots tote through the airport? That’s what the union and airline are hoping to replace.

“By eliminating bulky flight bags filled with paper, EFBs mean less weight for pilots to carry, reducing the possibility of injury on duty,” American pilot and APA official Hank Putek said. “In addition, they enable pilots to immediately download updates, rather than waiting for paper versions of required documents to be printed and distributed.”

Putek, a first officer, is a member of the APA safety committee. The union said he led efforts to get this approval.

American said getting the flight bags off American’s airlines would save an estimated $1.2 million a year in fuel costs, plus reduce employee injuries from having to lug around a 35-pound case.

“Today, our pilots are only able to carry a select number of required operating manuals in digital form,” said Captain John Hale, American’s vice president of flight. “We are taking a huge step forward to create a true digital cockpit by having all required information in an easy one-stop shop. The sky’s the limit, so to speak, in how electronic information will help improve our pilots’ work environment and American’s impact on the environment.”

Alaska Airlines announced in late May that it was distributing iPads to all its pilots, with that to be completed by mid-June. The iPads will carry the pilots’ flight manuals. Alaska is also looking at putting its navigational charts on the iPad, as American will do in its test.

“With the recent announcement that Alaska Airlines will soon be issuing iPads to all of that carrier’s pilots to serve as EFBs, it’s clear that American Airlines stands at the forefront of a significant industry trend,” Putek said. “I’m extremely pleased that APA was able to play a role in bringing this effort to fruition.”

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