Pilots spar over wisdom of relying on iPads in the cockpit

Updated: One's concern about reliability and safety prompts second to offer ringing endorsement

We left off last week with an item about American Airlines moving toward issuing iPads to its pilots so that they don't have to lug 35 pounds of paperwork and charts onto every flight.

That prospect prompted a warning from a pilot who works for another airline:

"It's a big worry. Consumer rubbish has no place in the cockpit. I'm a pilot - the cockpit is a place where everything is perfectly designed, perfectly reliable and responds immediately to commands, exactly as intended. The iPad is far from this."

And that contention prompted the following rebuttal in the comments section on that post early this morning:

(Update: And pilots continue the tussle in comments on this post below.)

I've been flying with an iPad for well over a year now and, if anything, it has INCREASED the margin of safety of my flights. Picture a very busy flight in, let's say, New York terminal airspace with just one pilot (as many Part 91 and 135 flights are conducted) and the controllers give you a reroute. Under normal circumstances, you're unfolding and searching the paper charts for a navigational aid or fix, flying the plane (potentially in the clouds without an autopilot, which increases pilot workload) and flipping through a bound paper book looking for an approach chart. Let's just say it's not fun. With the iPad, it is a few simple taps and the necessary chart is up for you. It is a game changer.

(2011's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries)

Do I rely solely on my iPad for charts? No. I have something that should be very familiar to everyone here - a backup! My iPhone runs the same program I use on my iPad and is sitting there at the ready to be used should my iPad fail. What if they both fail you ask? For almost every commercial flight, there are plenty of communications options and (air traffic control) can give you the information you need to navigate safely. Combine that with the data built into the avionics of most planes and airlines and you have an extremely rock solid contingency plan.

iPads are already being used by Alaska Airlines and have proven extremely reliable and useful. As for the interference question, they make you turn off and stow your electronics for three reasons - because they haven't tested them all for interference, because they want your full attention during the two critical phases of flight (takeoff and landing) and they don't want things becoming projectiles in the event of an accident. If they are certifying something for use in a flight deck, you can be sure they are testing them for interference. But, that still leaves passengers with two more reasons for turning them off and stowing them during takeoff and landing.

I have no way of verifying that either the original iPad skeptic or this iPad enthusiast is an actual airline pilot, but they both have the part down well enough to leave me convinced ... which makes their diametrically opposed views of the iPad matter rather interesting.

Welcome regulars and passersby. Here are a few more recent buzzblog items. And, if you’d like to receive Buzzblog via e-mail newsletter, here’s where to sign up. Follow me on Twitter here.

Editors' Picks
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies