American Airlines has become the first commercial carrier to be given clearance by the Federal Aviation Authority to use iPads during all phases of flight, replacing the 35lbs of manuals from the original manufacturer which have to be lugged around with the aircraft everywhere it goes. According to the airline, the change will result in an estimated annual fuel saving of $1.2 million.
This shouldn’t be taken as a comment on the reliability of iPads themselves, but I’m not sure how comfortable I am to hear this. Commercial aircraft themselves have considerable amounts of duplication and redundancy in their systems to accommodate failure. How many iPads will actually be in the cockpit?
Call me old-fashioned, but no amount of them is going to be more reliable than a book, which works every time you open it. Books don’t need a reset button, and they definitely don’t need to be recharged every now and then.
Of course there are positives: retrieving information by typing into a search box is clearly going to be faster than flicking through index pages, and information from beyond the flight deck can be delivered more comprehensively. However, we should always be wary when technology is introduced into the flight deck. Since more and more automation has been introduced in flying over the years, it means not only less hands-on experience for the pilots – and what are the implications for a crash landing?
At any rate, the decision will not change passengers’ ability to use electronic devices during restricted phases of the flight: in an emergency, the cabin crew won’t want you to be distracted – or hit – by an iPad or MP3 player. But it might make the announcement to switch off your machines a little galling.