Why pilots love iPads

Business Jet Traveler » October 2011
Charts, operating manuals and maintenance data that used to weigh up to 80 po
Saturday, October 1, 2011 - 6:00am

As the PC half of a mixed marriage, I usually don't pay attention to Apple products. So I was nonplussed to find myself harrumphing along with so many others after the debut of the iPad in April of last year. "Doesn't do anything any other tablet can't do," I thought.

"Who'd buy a computer without a keyboard, USB inputs or a DVD drive?" My opinion was backed up by blogs from much worthier soothsayers of cyberspace.

It didn't take long for Steve Jobs and company to prove us all wrong.

As it happened, the Apple folks had nailed a huge functionality sweet spot betwixt laptop and smartphone. The iPad's luscious display and hearty processor make for the perfect combination for accessing the Internet on the go and serving as the platform for innumerable applications–from silly games to productivity apps for virtually every professional field.

Three features make the iPad particularly attractive to aviators. First, it has a large display that's easily visible in daylight and at extreme angles. The iPad's screen matches the performance, durability and reliability of purpose-built aviation equipment costing many thousands of dollars.

Second, the iPad's processor and capacity are remarkable. The processor is much less vulnerable to crashing than those of other tablets. And users can store all the charts, operating manuals and maintenance data they need–data that used to weigh up to 80 pounds and fill those worn leather satchels you'd see pilots rolling behind them in airports. And much of that data is updated as often as every four weeks–a tedious chore when it's on paper. With a 1.5-pound iPad, updates can be performed in minutes wherever there's a Wi-Fi or cellular phone connection. The instant accessibility of the data in the iPad–particularly in an emergency–trumps a stack of manuals by leaps
and bounds.

Which leads to the third point: the iPad is simple and intuitive to use. With up to 12 hours of battery life (no need to plug in), it's no more obtrusive in the cockpit than a clipboard. Pilots can develop and file flight plans leisurely at home or in their hotel rooms.

Given all these plusses, it's perhaps not surprising that the FAA has embraced the iPad with atypical speed. In fact, it's safe to say that never before has a commercial off-the-shelf product gained such quick acceptance from our ultra-conservative, safety-obsessed friends at 800 Independence Avenue. The agency has given approval for private pilots to use iPads as replacements for paper charts. Further, FAA headquarters has issued a letter encouraging its regional field offices to approve iPad use by charter and airline operators.

Preparing for such use, charter operator Executive Jet Management recently conducted punishing tests on its iPads–including rapid decompression in an atmospheric chamber. They passed with flying colors.

And stunning HD colors, too.

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