iPads could save American Airlines $1 million annually



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Posted on July 14, 2011 at 9:59 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 25 at 2:11 PM

FORT WORTH — One month after it began testing iPads in the cockpit, American Airlines said the devices are working flawlessly, and if implemented fleet-wide, could save the airline $1.2 million in fuel costs.

"I think it's a game changer," said Capt. David Clark, a pilot with American Airlines. "It's innovative. We're the first to try this."

The iPads are designed to replace heavy flight bags that pilots must carry. The bags contain a mountain of paper maps and manuals.

"I weighed [my flight bag] on the bathroom scale and this thing was 48 pounds," Clark said.

In contrast, the iPad is less than 1.5 pounds and is the latest evolution of the so-called electronic flight bag.

American Airlines invited News 8 into its Flight Academy to see the Boeing 777 simulators where pilots train with the tablets.

"I've tried as hard as I can to lock this device up," Clark explained. "Worst case, when it has happened, I've been able to hard reset it. It shuts down and comes back. So far, it's been very dependable."

Clark said 80 pilots based in Los Angeles are testing a dozen iPads over the next six months on daily flights to Tokyo and Shanghai.

Pilots must carry back-up batteries and have to have the devices strapped to their leg until the FAA allows them to be mounted with Velcro on a panel in the cockpit.

But the reduced weight by ditching the heavy flight bag means jets will burn less fuel. American said by getting rid those flight bags, the airline can save $1.2 million a year in fuel costs (not to mention the backs, shoulders and necks of the pilots who must lug the bags around).

Currently, pilots must manually replace old maps every two weeks, but iPads can update the same information digitally in real time.

Clark said the iPads are in "airplane mode" and not connected to WiFi during flight. Plus, he added, engineers were also unable to detect any electromagnetic interference between the computer tablet and avionics in the jets.

Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines are testing tablets, too. But, American said it is the first carrier to have FAA approval to keep its tablets on during takeoff, landings and during the entire flight.

Other tablets might also make their way onto flight decks of airliners, but the iPad is the first one approved by the FAA.

American and the Allied Pilots Association first started working on the iPad last summer.

E-mail  jwhitely@wfaa.com