Cockpit Chronicles: The iPad Flight Bag Is Finally Here (Video)

The long awaited, previously announced iPad Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) has finally been approved for most of our airplanes at the company. In fact, we’re the first U.S. airline to receive FAA approval for the use of the iPad as a replacement for all of our paper Jeppesen approach plates.

The process started in 2007 when we were allowed to use laptops to hold our company manuals. This meant we could leave three to four manuals at home that weighed about ten pounds. When the iPad came on the scene, we were allowed to use it as an alternative to the laptop. That left only our “Jepps,” two to three large manuals that weighed even more than the company books, for us to lug around.

Some airlines went a different route, investing in a built-in laptop solution called a Class II EFB that included Jepp support. This 2009 cockpit video by Gadling shows how Virgin America deployed that solution.

Later, our company worked with Jeppesen and the FAA to offer an iPad that would be provided to every pilot and a RAM mount that stays in the aircraft. In addition, the company also provided us with a Hypermac backup battery that’s capable of extending the life of the iPad for an additional 24 hours.

Since both pilots will be carrying an iPad, coupled with the extended batteries, the FAA feels this is as redundant as the regular manuals.

A few weeks ago we saw our first mounts in our MD-80, so I felt a video tour might explain how the setup works and just what it replaces.

So far American has approval for the 777, 737, MD-80 and is just awaiting approval for the 757/767 fleet. Hopefully, this will be just in time for my return to that airplane, as once you use this setup, you won’t want to go back to the paper.

To get that approval, American had to have the iPad tested in a hypobaric chamber to simulate how the device would handle during a rapid decompression. They also had to arrange for mount testing with the FAA, which is ironic since our manuals weigh far more than the iPad and aren’t secured in place. Many takeoffs have resulted in a book or two sliding off the side table and onto the floor.

Next up on the list are the reams of dot matrix printed paperwork we take with us on the flights that I covered in a previous video. Once that is accomplished, and weather is incorporated into the iPad, we can finally claim to be flying in the seemingly mythical “paperless cockpit” that has long been the goal since sometime just after the Wright Brothers took to the air and discovered how difficult it was to fold up their maps in the open cockpit.

[Photo/Video credit: Kent Wien]

Related: “Cockpit Chronicles: Paper Makes an Airplane Fly”

Cockpit Chronicles” takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as a captain co-pilot on the MD-80 757 and 767 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the “Cockpit Chronicles” Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

The 10 Best Travel Apps For Flight Attendants

1. FAAWait – During a creeping weather delay a flight attendant who also works part time as an air traffic controller told me about FAAWait. It’s his favorite app. One click and we knew which airports across the country were also experiencing delays, how long the delays were averaging, and what had caused the delays.

2. MyRadar: Recently a fearful flier on board one of my flights spent three hours watching the weather light up his iPad screen: blue, green, red – wow, so much red! He knew exactly when to expect turbulence, how bad it might get, and how long it would last. Knowing this kept him calm. At one point he even turned around in his seat to let the crew know it would be smooth flying from here on out. Two seconds later the captain called to tell us the exact same thing, it was safe to get up and finish the service. Since then I’ve been recommending the app to anyone who mentions they’re afraid to fly.

3. WhatsApp: An Emirate’s flight attendant from Bosnia based in Saudi Arabia told me about this app on a flight from Miami to New York. WhatsApp makes it possible to send text messages to friends and family out of the country free of charge. There is virtually no cost to stay in touch with loved ones. You can even share audio and video messages.

4. Twitter: Still the best way to get breaking news! You don’t need to “get it.” Just learn how to use the hashtags to find information as it’s happening. For instance, not too long ago I was at an airport that was being evacuated and no one knew why. That was my cue to search the airport code – #DFW. That’s how I found out there was a bomb threat on an incoming flight. I learned this from passengers who were actually on board the flight and tweeting about it as they taxied to the gate.

5. HappyHourFinder: Flight attendants don’t make a lot of money. In fact new hires start out making less than $18,000 a year. And yet we’re subjected to overpriced hotel and airport food on a regular basis. This is why we take advantage of happy hour specials, particularly ones that include half priced appetizers, which might explain how I ended up at Vince Neil’s Bar, Tres Rios, in Las Vegas two hours after learning about the app in the crew van on our way from the airport to the layover hotel.6. Instagram: Because when you travel there are just so many beautiful things to photograph. The app not only makes your pictures look ten times better, it’s easy to text and email your photos or post photos straight to Facebook or Twitter. What I enjoy most about the app is following people whose photos inspire me to travel, like @Lax2Nrt or even @Umetaturou who shares hilarious pictures of a Border Collie named Sora who can balance anything on his head. One of these days I’m going to fly to Japan and walk that dog!

7. Postagram: Remember when you used to send postcards to family and friends from around the world just to let them know you were thinking about them? Now you’re too busy to think, let alone search for just the right card to send. Not to mention all that time it takes to address and stamp it. With Postagram you can turn your cool photos into postcards by using pictures from your phone, Facebook or Twitter. Write a short message and Postagram will take care of the rest.

8. Yelp: Whenever I find myself at a layover hotel in a new city, the first thing I do is pull up Yelp just to see what’s nearby. I might use it to find a great place to eat, check out a tourist attraction, or locate a pharmacy within walking distance. Users post reviews and photos to help narrow down the search so you can determine whether or not it’s worth it to leave your hotel room.

9. HotelTonight: If you’re a commuter like me, this app will save your life one day. At noon each day HotelTonight offers great last minute deals on a couple of hotels near your current location. Get a $25 credit with your first booking, $25 for each friend who signs up, and $25 when a friend makes their first bookings. So … who wants to be friends?

10. GateGuru: Enter an airport code and up pops everything you could ever want to know about food, shopping, and any services offered, along with reviews, ratings and maps. Enter your flight number and access flight status, delays and weather conditions all in the same place.

Airport, Airline Weather System Updates To Save Time, Fuel, Eventually

weather

When unavoidable bad weather causes turbulence in the air, passengers can expect a rocky ride. In the past, while pilots have aimed to avoid turbulence, they have been limited in the number of available tools. Now, a new turbulence avoidance system promises to change that.

A smoother ride
Called the Juneau Airport Wind System (JAWS), it was developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and provides information pilots can use to route aircraft away from patches of potentially dangerous turbulence.

“By alerting pilots to areas of moderate and severe turbulence, this system enables them to fly more frequently and safely in and out of the Juneau airport in poor weather,” says Alan Yates, an NCAR program manager who helped oversee the system’s development in an R&D Magazine article. “It allows pilots to plan better routes, helping to reduce the bumpy rides that passengers have come to associate with airports in these mountainous settings.”

The system uses a network of wind measuring instruments and computational formulas to interpret rapidly changing atmospheric conditions. The Federal Aviation Administration accepted JAWS for operational use this year.

Just how bad can turbulence in the air be? Check this video:


Sliding in for a landing
In the works and delayed for several years, another system relies on satellites and GPS rather than the radar system developed in the 1950s to direct planes and jets from takeoff to landing.

Called the NextGen system, it will be initially used in Orlando, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, northern and southern California, Houston, Charlotte and northern Texas. The new system should allow planes to fly with less spacing between them on more direct routes, and allowing them to glide to a landing rather than following a step down pattern that is not fuel efficient.

The NextGen system has been compared to walking down a flight of stairs vs. sliding down the banister.

“In addition to improving safety and increasing capacity, this plan will allow for more direct routing for airplanes, less holding at the destination and better planning for constant descent arrivals mentioned above, resulting in less carbon emissions, fuel consumption, and noise.” said Gadling’s Kent Wien in Plane Answers: Airlines see green in appearing green back in 2009, just to show how long this one has been in the works.

This video tells the whole story:



Flickr photo by Ack Ook

FAA To Study Use Of Electronic Devices On Flights

The FAA is reviewing the use of electronics in flight. Having a smartphone or tablet with me when I travel has been incredibly convenient over the past few years. Not only has it allowed me to stay in contact with friends and family, it has also allowed me to be much more productive while on the road too. That is except for those annoying 20 minutes between the time the airplane door is closed and the point at which we reach a “safe cruising altitude.” During that period of time I’m usually stuck looking at the back of the chair in front of me or paging through the “Skymall” catalog. That could all change soon, however, as the FAA has said that it will investigate the use of electronics in flight and possibly expand the options on what is allowed during takeoff and landing.

According to various reports, a new government-industry group is being formed to study how passengers use their devices in flight and what impact those devices could conceivably have on the aircraft. The group will examine the current technology standards and review the process under which gadgets are tested to determine if any dangers arise by allowing travelers to use their smartphones or tablets throughout the entire flight. Members of the group, which are expected to include representatives of the airline industry, will review the current policy to decide if there is any room for change.

While this is good news for travelers, the FAA is quick to state that there isn’t likely to be a change in its policy towards the use of cellphones for making voice calls. Passengers are currently prohibited from making or receiving calls once the plane door is closed and while the rules may change for how other devices can be used, this ban will probably remain in place.I for one welcome this news. As someone who rarely leaves home without his iPad, I now use that device to meet all kinds of inflight entertainment needs. Not only does it store my music, games and movies, but also books and magazines too. When I can’t use it during a flight, there really isn’t a whole lot for me to do to help pass the time. The fact that many pilots now use Apple’s tablet in the cockpit should be a testament to the safety of the device and the minimal impact it has on electronic equipment aboard the aircraft as well.

Besides, it’s not like all passengers are shutting down their electronics anyway. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been sitting next to someone on a plane who continues to send text messages, listen to music or check email, even after the flight attendant has asked them to shut off their device. I was once on an international flight where the guy across the aisle from me kept his smartphone on the entire way, stealthily taking a glance at it every ten minutes or so. What he hoped to find on his screen I have no idea. It wasn’t like he was going to get a phone call or text while over the Atlantic or something.

There is no time frame as to when the group will be formed or how long it will take for them to wrap up their investigation. It can’t come fast enough as far as I’m concerned.

FAA reconsiders use of electronics on airplanes

Anyone who has tried to use an e-reader or tablet on their flight in the last several years knows about the strict rules that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) places on their operation. Taxi, takeoff and landing are periods during which most electronics are prohibited, a rule that has riled up frequent travelers and tech lovers alike. Even “Mythbusters” has an episode exploring the use of cell phones on aircraft electronics (result: busted).

Given the changes to technologies and continuous pressure from consumers, that may soon change. The New York TimesNick Bilton on the Bits blog posted an interesting article this weekend in which the FAA admitted that they’re looking into revising their policy. The current policy in place, which puts the onus of testing on the airlines, is too expensive and time consuming for the industry to support. As a result, the agency is looking into methods to “bring together electronics ‘manufacturers, consumer electronic associations, aircraft and avionics manufacturers, airlines, pilots, flight attendants and passengers’ to figure out how to allow greater use of these electronics on planes.”

There’s no word on what sort of schedule the FAA has in mind or how serious they are about the initiative, but if we can believe this report, the tide may soon be turning.

[flickr image via Fly for Fun]

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