iPads could replace paper charts in airline cockpits

A Colorado company develops an iPad app that will deliver electronic aeronautical charts to airline cockpits, and some airlines are testing tablet use in the cockpit.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
2 min read
Jeppesen's iPad app offers electronic aeronautical charts. Jeppesen Systems

Apple's iPad may soon find its way onto your next commercial flight, and not just in the cabin as an entertainment device. Major airlines and a charter jet company are considering using the tablet as a way to replace both paper navigation charts and laptops on the ground and during flight.

So far, no U.S. airline has adopted iPads exclusively, but Delta Airlines and Alaska Airlines are testing the device for navigational purposes. Alaska spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey told the Seattle Times that the carrier is running a trial program with a select group of pilots. Calls made by CNET to the Alaska Airlines press office were not returned at the time of this writing.

Switching to iPads or other tablet devices would cut down on paper, and on the equipment pilots have to carry. While some specially designed laptops, or "electronic flight bags," can weigh up to 18 pounds, the current iPad weighs just just 1.5 pounds (the recently announced iPad 2 is a tad lighter). What's more, instead of receiving new paper charts every few weeks, pilots could receive updates electronically.

Yes, there's an app for that
To power the iPads, Jeppesen, based in Englewood, Colo., has developed an iPad application called Mobile TC that delivers electronic charts (an Android app for Honeycomb tablets like the Motorola Xoom is due later this year). At the the time of this writing, Mobile TC covers only airport terminal charts, but Jeppesen spokesman Brian Rantala told CNET that the app will be expanded to cover in-flight use. Mobile TC is a free download from the iTunes App Store, but the charts require a subscription.

Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration authorized private jet charter Executive Jet Management to begin using the app as an alternative to paper aeronautical charts. A wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing, Jeppesen also developed an iPhone and iPad app called CrewAlert to manage airline crew fatigue.

And back in the cabin, Qantas subsidiary Jetstar is close to using iPads as in-flight entertainment units on selected Airbus A320 and A330 aircraft. Though Jetstar initially announced its iPad plans last summer, Flightglobal reported today that the airline has compiled a presentation for major movie studios.

Update, March 8 at 4:25 p.m. PT: More information added.