Qantas, Telstra aim for green skies with iPads for pilots

Companies working toward September launch, pending Civil Aviation Safety Authority approval

Qantas and Telstra hope to reduce airplane paper by giving iPads to pilots. The companies have been working to secure approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and hope to distribute the first iPads in September, according to Telstra and CASA.

Under the plan, pilots on Qantas’ Boeing 737 fleet will be first to replace paper charts, flight plans, manuals and forms with digital documents and apps on the Apple tablet, Telstra and Qantas said. The companies eventually plan to distribute more than 2,200 64GB iPad 2s to all domestic and international pilots on all fleets, Telstra said.

Qantas currently prints 18,000 pages of paper for flight operations per day. Moving to iPads is expected to reduce that load to 3,000 pages, Telstra said. That adds up to a 20kg reduction in paper weight carried on board, it said.

The iPads will include two apps developed for cockpit use: one for charts by Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen and one by Qantas for all other necessary information, Telstra said. On the ground in Australia, Telstra will provide a data connection using its NextG network. Internationally, Qantas pilots can access Telstra’s global Wi-Fi partner network comprising 500,000 wireless hot spots.

“The iPads will operate under the same premise as a standard iPad when in flight and will be in flight mode, allowing pilots to access information and programs stored on the iPad but not connect to the Internet,” a Telstra spokesman said.

Qantas hopes to introduce iPads for pilots by September, subject to regulatory approval, and expects implementation will take three to four weeks per fleet, Telstra said. There will be a transition period with both paper and iPads so pilots can familiarize themselves with the apps, it said.

“Qantas has been working with us for some months on this,” a CASA spokesman Peter Gibson told Computerworld Australia. “We are aiming to have the approvals in place late this year.”

“This hasn’t been done before so our avionics engineers need to check all of the data being provided by Qantas to make sure all safety issues have been addressed thoroughly,” Gibson said. “We also need to make sure training for pilots is in place, there are manuals setting out how these will be used, how the information is verified and controlled [and] back up plans if the iPads don’t work.”

Gibson described the above as normal safety processes followed “when any major change to the way an airline operates is proposed.”

“The revolutionary capabilities of iPad technology, combined with the powerful customized apps, give our pilots the ability to replace cumbersome hard copies –saving time, resources and costs,” said Qantas technical pilot, Captain Alex Passerini. “This initiative is a response to strong demand from our pilots for a simpler, more efficient system, and follows extensive testing and development work, including close consultation with the [CASA].”

The effort is not Qantas' first experiment with iPads. The airline has trialed iPads for passenger entertainment. Jetstar, a Qantas subsidiary, rents out iPads to passengers for $10 to $15.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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