May 30, 2011, 12:33 PM — Alaska Airlines announced Friday it will give its pilots iPads as a replacement for paper flight manuals, instructions and documentation that weigh as much as 25 pounds.
The switch, due in mid-June, isn't designed as a way to get more high-tech tools into the hands of pilots, and won't replace the navigational charts pilots use both for primary navigational references and backups for GPS-based electronic navigational systems, at least not yet.
More critical to Alaska Airlines – and, presumably, to its medical-insurance carrier – is the reduction in wear and tear on the pilots themselves, who often turn up with back and muscle injuries from the effort of dragging along flight bags that can weigh as much as 50 pounds.
It will eliminate the need to print 2.4 million pages and cut some weight from the planes – though presumably the pilots don't pay for bags or weight penalties the way passengers do.
The FAA only approved pilots using iPads for logbooks and other materials in February.
The 1.5-pound iPads will be loaded with the GoodReader app and PDFs of all the manuals, references, charts and other content pilots need, placed either on stands in the cockpit, or on special kneeboards designed for iPad-poking pilots.
Private-charter company Executive Jet Management is already using iPads, with chart-viewing application from Jeppsen called Mobile TC on iPads; Delta is also testing iPads.
A series of smaller developers are also building iPad apps specifically for pilots, as, ironically, one of the most tech-dependent industries in the world begins migrating away from its heavy dependence on paper in the cockpit and toward something lighter.
Pilots will reportedly have to turn the wireless-networking off on their iPads just before takeoff and landing, just like passengers. There's no specific ruling on whether or not they'll be able to play games or even more advanced apps – flight simulators for the iPad, for example.