Cockpit Chronicles: Paper makes an airplane fly

Looking back on the accomplishments of the Wright brothers in 1903, I find it a miracle that they were able to get into the air while lacking a critical piece of material. Something so important that the FAA, JAA and CAA would ground any airplane today that tried to lift off without it.

You see, the Wright brothers lacked the paperwork to fly. They had no airworthiness certificate, no weight and balance data, no flight plan or even a license in their wallets. It’s truly astonishing that they ever left the ground.

Today we need this paperwork to fly and despite efforts to create a paperless cockpit, we’re carrying reams of additional information that’s still printed with a dot matrix printer at the airport before each flight.

To give you an idea what’s needed before a typical transatlantic crossing, I took a moment before beginning the preflight inspection and sat down to go through the trip paperwork for our recent flight from London to Boston.

This didn’t include the customs and immigration paperwork that the purser, or number one flight attendant, handles. Nor did it show the volumes of books that we carry with approach plates, checklists, procedures and aircraft manuals that I’ve described before.
Boeing and Airbus have done their part to offer a Class III Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) in their newer airplanes that promises to eliminate the need for these books and manuals and some of the paperwork shown in the video above.

The 787 even includes a Class III EFB as standard equipment. But it’s up to the airlines to retrofit their older cockpits with this technology that will not only save weight, but promises to give us better situational awareness when taxiing around the airport and maneuvering to avoid thunderstorms since airport diagrams and real-time satellite weather can be displayed on the newer EFBs.

Maybe then we could get away from paper depictions of weather phenomena along our route of flight in favor of real time information that just might keep us away from unforecasted headwinds or areas of moderate or greater turbulence.

Even Orville and Wilbur could see the benefits in that.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out Plane Answers.