Ipads in the Cockpit

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - 1:58pm

Alaska Airlines pilots have begun using iPads instead of paper in-flight.

For all of the technology in the modern cockpit, which includes a tremendous amount of computer technology, paper continues to play a major role. There are navigational charts, airport runway maps and manuals on everything from company policies to reference works on each button, switches and circuit breakers on the flight deck.

All of that paper info is dragged around by pilots in bags that can weigh more than 40 pounds. Captain Jim Freeman and Captain Brian Holm are Alaska Airlines pilots who have the job of trying to move that paper and put it on a 1.5 pound iPad.

"What we've set up is a 400 megabyte file which contains all of the essential manuals and information we feel the pilot needs," Freeman said.

Right now at Alaska Airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration has approved using the iPad for viewing manuals in flight.

Pilots are also allowed to download weather map information, not normally available on paper, while they are still on the ground.

But while all of the maps and navigational information is available for the iPad, the FAA is still evaluating whether it trusts the iPad enough to allow pilots to rely on that that information.

"They want to make sure this electronic "paper" is always going to be available, so you have backups," said Freeman.

The old paper is now becoming the backup and it will live in the plane instead of those familiar flight bags.

Right now, Alaska pilots only use the iPad on the ground and above 10,000 feet.

They're already finding it easier to flip through electronic pages.

"Your decision making is phenomenal with a device like this," said Freeman.

He points to how tests show that pilots can better sort between different airport approach maps when confronted by difficult weather situations where diversions to another airport are likely versus a cockpit with paper approach plates clipped up everywhere.

About three fourths of Alaska's pilots have the iPad in their hands and the rest should come soon.

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