updated 11:05 pm EST, Mon February 28, 2011
Ruling opens door to widespread commercial use
After three months of testing, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given approval for one company, Executive Jet Management, to use iPads running Jeppesen Mobile TC instead of the traditional paper charts and Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs). Though only valid for the one company at the moment, the decision presages eventual approval for iPads to be used widely for commercial and non-commercial flights. Pilots can use a kneeboard to secure the iPad hands-free while keeping it visible during critical stages of the flight.
While iPads have always been acceptable for reference purposes, this marks the first time the FAA has approved them for use as a pilot's sole charting source. Testing included trials at various altitudes and pressures, in 10 different types of aircraft with 55 different pilots for a total of 250 flights. The iPad was tested under rapid decompression conditions of up to 51,000 feet, as well as tested for non-interference with traditional electronic pilot navigation systems. It was reported that neither the application or the OS failed at any point in the testing, but that in the "unlikely" event of an app or system crash, pilots could restart the app and get back to where they were within 4-6 seconds.
It is hoped that the successful test could pave the way for an eventual Class 2 mounting configuration, which would allow the iPad to be mounted inside the aircraft in a manner similar to the way it can be mounted in automobiles now. The current authorization requires the use of a second device -- most likely another iPad -- to be in the cockpit to serve as a backup, but even the weight of two iPads (approximately three pounds) saves considerably over the 25 pounds' worth of paper charts and manuals currently required by the FAA.
Alaska Airlines and other commercial carriers are said to already be evaluating the iPad themselves, and with further FAA approval the iPad could conceivably replace a host of electronic devices, incorporating weather information, GPS, maps, crew scheduling, passenger and/or freight manifestos and more.