Switching To iPad Pilot Charts Could Save American Airlines $1.2MM A Year

Switching To iPad Pilot Charts Could Save American Airlines $1.2MM A Year

When American Airlines announced that they were planning on phasing out the paper in-flight charts in the cockpit in favor of the iPad, some of us smelled a PR maneuver. How could a couple of breakable $500 tablets in each plane be cheaper or easier than just printing out some maps?

As it turns out, though, paper’s heavy… and merely by switching to the iPad in every plane, American Airlines could save up to $1.2 million every year in fuel costs alone.

The math’s pretty simple. Each bag of in-flight maps and charts weighs as much as thirty-five pounds or more. Since an iPad weighs less than 2 pounds, that’s over thirty pounds shaved off the fuel prices of each flight… and if you fly as much as American Airlines does, those costs add up.

As usual, expect those savings to be passed on to you, the flyer, by way of lower fares, better service, greater baggage allowance and better Frequent Flyer perks. Ha ha! Just kidding.

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  • Drilled

    Haha. Funny. I wouldn’t be surprised how much weight could be reduced by other similar acts.

  • Jordan Clay

    Don’t they still have to carry Paper back-up maps?   I don’t think I trust a single purely digital format as a back-up…..Trust me…I’ve had two hard drive failures and had to restore my iPhone a couple times in the past year or so.

  • Gaston

    That would be pretty pointless..

  • Jeff

    Each pilot has one of his or her own so the chance that both would fail at the same time is very small. Besides, it’s mostly a back up reference material set. They are not sitting the cockpit with a map saying: Turn left here???

  • flyboybob

    Besides the weight issue, pilots have to update their paper charts every 28 days. The iPad allows them to update through WiFi or the cloud rather than changing each page manually as it is replaced. Paper charts also can be lost, torn or just become less readable due to frequent use. Imagine how many times a month an American Airlines pilot has to refer to his or her DFW charts.
    The newest version of aircraft displays, which the airlines don’t have yet, can display the charts on the aircraft’s navigation display The display will also show the aircraft’s position and flight path on the chart. When these newer type of avionics becomes available to the airlines, pilots will only carry their company manuals on their iPads. This is exactly what Alaska Airlines is currently doing until they get the equipment to mount the iPad in the cockpit. A mount is required by the FAA for a class one EFB (Electronic Flight Bag) to be out during takeoff and landing. The iPad is considered a class one EFB.

  • Josh Tokarskorowskaya

    The iPad doesn’t have a hard drive.

  • imajoebob

    One more bad idea that looks good.  They could probably save the same amount of fuel by making other, SAFER weight reductions (replace flatware with plastic in first class?).  Except for flying a newly assigned route, pilots generally use maps as backup or reference system.  Since they fly the same routes repeatedly, they normally don’t need the maps.  If some odd occurrence damaged the plane’s navigation data, it would be likely that it also affected the iPad.  Why in the world would you back up a normally bullet proof electronic system with another electronic system?

    Considering the number of flights AA flies every year, the marginal savings per passenger is so slight I’d rather they charge me the extra 1¢ – that’s right, ONE CENT – per ticket they’d charge me to carry paper charts.

  • campcamp

    yes but if we are really being sticklers, wouldnt we really prefer an E-INK solution? For one, there’s no need for refresh rates. and you barely have to charge it.

  • flyboybob

    The navigation charts are used on every flight regardless how many times the crew has flown into an airport. Pilots use airport taxi diagrams to ensure that they taxi via the correct route to the departure runway and don’t have a runway incursion. They use RNAV departure procedure charts, high altitude en-route charts and Standard Instrument arrival charts. Air Traffic control may give the crew radar vectors to the final approach course but they still use Instrument letdown charts for each landing runway. And, after landing they use the airport taxi charts to taxi to the terminal safely. These charts are used regardless of the weather conditions. Modern airliners have long range navigation capabilities to display the departure, cruise and arrival course on a display in the cockpit. However, the charts contain valuable textual instructions and directions that are not yet available on cockpit displays.

    Weight is obviously a factor in airline costs. Some very low cost airlines in Europe do not equip the cabins with window shades or tray tables to save weight. Fuel in Europe is very expensive and the trip legs are usually an hour or less. 

  • flyboybob

    Unfortunately, there are only two purveyors of aviation charts and both only run on the iPad, Jeppesen Mobile TC and iChart. Jeppesen has been the first choice of the airlines since the 1930s when Capt. Jeppesen invented the paper approach chart for for United Airlines. Jeppesen Charts are available for airports worldwide. iChart only contains the US Government version of the charts which are available on line from sources like http://www.airnav.com for free. The US Government charts only cover the US.

  • ErinsDad

    I’m getting busy on the “Angry 737s” game app right now.  You slingshot 737s onto the nearest open runway, avoiding the TSA zombies and flying lost luggage.

  • MattSTKC

    Someone please make this it sounds AWESOME

  • MattSTKC

    the ipad isn’t like, built into the dash or something. the whole plane could go dark but the ipad has… wait for it…. a BATTERY! yay!. even if the wifi goes down they’ll still have the MAPS on the SCREEN. powered by the…. battery.!!!

  • jc1890

    Then why don’t they get rid of all the analog instruments and switch everything to digital? It’s called having a redundant system.

  • jc1890

    What about HIRF damage?

  • Liz Marley

    So, if the pilot can use his/her iPad during takeoff and landing, why can’t I use mine?

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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