Paperless cockpit: US pilots navigate the iPad


"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking, and my iPad has just left our cruising altitude." What sounds like an Apple hype, has long been a reality in many cockpits: The pilots of the US airline American Airlines (AA) are allowed to bring the contents of their printed manuals completely to the iPad. AA is thus making its way to the paperless cockpit and is beginning to abolish the usual logbooks, checklists and navigation charts on paper in the cockpit.

The approval of the 600-gram all-rounder as a co-pilot was not so easy for American. Only after a test phase of several months and a long approval process gave the US aviation authority the green light. The permission to use the iPad must be obtained by each airline itself, because their aircraft types, training programs and procedures often differ. "American Airlines is the first company to get this approval for all phases of the flight, " the airline proudly writes in a statement.

From the German point of view, the American change to the iPad, however, is not a leap forward, but the long overdue step to paperless cockpit. "Lufthansa has abolished the flight manuals in paper form 13 years ago, " says the spokesman for the largest German airline, Michael Lamberty. Also paper maps have the pilots of the yellow crane line no longer on board. Instead, a tablet designed specifically for aircraft provides the necessary applications - from take-off to landing.

AA wants to save 1.2 million US dollars (about 938, 500 euros) with the iPad annually. Finally, collections of up to 16 kilograms of maps and manuals boost kerosene consumption. "This is a very exciting and important milestone for all of us, " said John Hale, representative of the 8500 pilots at American Airlines.

A staggering 12, 000 pages of paper may comprise the conventional "Electronic Flight Bag" (EFB) of a single pilot in the US, predicts AA competitor United Airlines. "This is not just a small booklet, " says Lamberty about the mountains of paper, but a kind of "board library". United started distributing 11, 000 iPads to the pilots last year. While airplanes have flown almost paperless in Germany for many years, US pilots seem to be slow to replace printing ink with displays.

In this country, the aviation industry remains skeptical of Apple's all-rounder. As a consumer device with lower performance is a license "rather difficult, " says Benjamin Götze, flight operations manager at Air Berlin. An iPad is also not as robust as the Windows XP-based tablets of the first generation, which would often be used, explains a pilot of a major German airline. "We also use it as a coffee table, doorstop or back scratcher, " he says. However, he still has to carry the most important documents with him - about 100 pages of paper in the medium-haul Airbus A320.

In the US, the flight attendants could be equipped with an iPad. Soon connecting flights and dining wishes of the passengers could be accessed via the device, it is said at American Airlines - then the crew comes not only with the tablet, but also with the tablet to the seat. (Dpa / tc)