Friday, March 18, 2011

iPads May Revolutionize Airline Cockpits

USA Today: The Federal Aviation Administration this year for the first time granted approval for two charter companies to use iPads instead of the bulky paper charts and manuals that pilots have been required to carry since the birth of modern aviation. Alaska Airlines is testing iPads in some of its planes, and Delta Air Lines and American Airlines say they're planning on launching tests soon.

Safety advocates also are enthusiastic about tablet computers, but they warn that there could be a downside: more distractions in the cockpit. "It's a two-sided coin," says National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Debbie Hersman.

While the devices could become inexpensive safety warning systems for weather and other uses, distractions have increasingly played a role in NTSB accident investigations. On Oct. 21, 2009, pilots on a Northwest Airlines flight working on their laptops stopped talking to controllers and flew past their destination.

Concerns about distractions have not slowed sales of the devices. Private pilots, who do not need FAA approval to use the devices, have vaulted aviation software firms into the top-seller lists at Apple's App Store. Pilots say the iPad is faster, lighter and more versatile than paper. Another attraction is cost: airlines are hoping to save millions of dollars a year in reduced fuel and paper.

"Any pilot who looks at it, wants it," says Michael Klein, president of OpenAir, a Gaithersburg, Md., charter operator. "It's better than paper. It does everything for you. It's amazing."

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