Apple iPad: Making Its Way to a Cockpit Near You

Photo courtesy of Brandon Farris, copyright 2011,

The next time you fly, Apple’s innovative tablet device could play a significant role in your trip. Since receiving approval from the FAA, the Apple iPad has become very popular with US airlines. According to recent reports, Alaska Airlines and American Airlines are eying the device for replacing paper charts, maps, and flight manuals.

Alaska Airlines has begun phasing out their paper flight manuals in favor of the PDF copies on the iPad. The devices will only initially replace the paper flight manuals, some 40 or more documents weighing almost 25 pounds, but the airline is considering also replacing charts and maps. The iPad is considered a Class 1 electronic device under FAA regulations and must be stowed during takeoff and landing, but otherwise it is a big hit with the airline.

The airline says adopting the iPad will save 2.4 million pieces of paper. According to their estimates, the cost of outfitting every pilot with an iPad will be offset by lower paper and printing costs as well as fuel savings from the weight reduction.

Following on the heels of Alaska Airlines, American Airlines has begun a six-month test of the iPad as an electronic flight bag. The testing currently consists of flights along two international routes out of Los Angeles.

While Alaska Airlines’ adoption of the iPad is more widespread, the American Airlines tests will replace both flight manuals and navigational charts and maps. If the tests work well, the airline intends to phase out the 35 pounds or more of paper manuals and charts that pilots must lug to and from the cockpit every day.

The test is a result of an initiative spearheaded by the Allied Pilots Association. The association called for electronic flight bags to replace pilots’ big black cases and it happens that the iPad might do the trick.

With weight savings, reduction in document production expenses, and near instantaneous updates, it is clear that the iPad’s use as a cost-effective electronic flight bag in commercial cockpits will only increase. In fact, it would come as no surprise to find that other carriers are looking over the shoulders of Alaska Airlines and American Airlines taking notes as those carriers begin to adopt the device.

What’s your take? Do you think the iPad makes a great, cost-effective electronic flight bag or are we setting ourselves up for Angry Birds and dead batteries at 30,000 feet?

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American Airlines pilots to try out iPads as flight bags
Alaska Airlines Pilots Go Lean And Green With iPads
This article was written by Matthew Everett, a private pilot, aviation writer, and frequent contributor to You can follow him on twitter @leaving_tf or find his blog at

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