Airlines High on Tablets' Potential to Improve Operations

Ann All
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Promising New Tablets

New tablets that are looking to compete with the iPad.

Printing has long been a bane to the bottom line, so it's not surprising that companies are looking for ways to cut down on their printing costs. Few industries have such an obvious cost target as airlines, which require pilots to lug around flight manuals and other documents weighing 20-plus pounds on every flight. Several airlines, including Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, have replaced the heavy paper with iPads. The move is saving money. In American's case, it trimmed $1.5 million from its printing costs.


It looks like there will be plenty more iPads in cockpits soon. United Continental just announced its intent to create "a paperless flight deck" by equipping 11,000 pilots with iPads by the end of this year. As a ZDNet item notes, iPads help airlines reduce fuel costs as well as paper costs. United Continental says it will save 326,000 gallons of jet fuel annually.


Delta Airlines' plans for iPads are even more ambitious, reports Apple Insider. It's loading pilots' iPads not just with flight manuals and other static documents, but with applications including a meteorology app offering access to pilot-tailored graphical weather information and real-time looped Delta radar, email and calendar apps, and a calculator that helps determine appropriate rest frequency and duration during flights. With in-flight Wi-Fi connections, pilots will also be able to communicate with ground crews, getting up-to-date weather reports and other relevant information. The story quotes a Delta official as saying the airline has "expanded our vision beyond how other carriers are utilizing tablet devices and see its potential as a complete two-way communication tool."


According to Wired, the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year signed off on the idea of using Apple's tablet as an approved alternative to paper charts . Each airline must get individual permission from the FAA, and it didn't take long for them to begin seeking approval. Tim Huegel, director of portfolio management for aviation chartmaker Jeppesen, which makes a mobile aviation application, told Wired that tablets could ultimately provide "door-to-door management" of a pilot's information, from crew schedules to weather information to navigation charts.


Tablets are becoming so popular with pilots that companies are beginning to sell gear such as the $40 Knee Board Case featured in this GottaBeMobile story, a case with a stand that pilots can position on their knees to view tablets while keeping hands free for flying.


Potentially the biggest tablet wins will come when companies use them not only to enhance efficiency but also to improve customer service, as I wrote last month. One airline, British Airways, is beginning to take its use of tablets in a more customer-centric direction, with flight attendants using them to access passenger information such as meal preferences, which passengers are traveling together and frequent flyer club status. The airline's head of inflight customer experience says the aim is to provide more personalized service.

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