iPads taking over the aircraft Cockpit

The iPad is an amazing device: small, compact, smart, and can do just about anything. Perhaps it can’t yet make you a cup of coffee, but at least it can let you order one.

I’ve already written about how some airlines are replacing their expensive on-board entertainment systems with iPads that are pre-loaded with games, movies, music, books and TV shows to allow passengers a huge choice of entertainment at a fraction of the cost of installing those expensive and complicated entertainment systems. Now, it seems, the humble iPad will just about fly the plane as well.

Boeing has announced that Qantas will be the launch customer for the Boeing Onboard Performance Tool (OPT) for iPad. The Onboard Performance Tool gives pilots the ideal speeds and engine settings for any aircraft, in any weather, on any runway. It helps to create vast gains in efficiency, range and payload. This marks the first time the OPT application has run on iPad. The Australian carrier will deploy the OPT for iPad on 130 of its Boeing airplanes.

The mobile OPT may be used as a standalone solution or as backup to Class 2 or 3 Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) applications. The Electronic Flight Bag brings the technological advances of computer information delivery and management to the airplane flight deck, providing integrated solutions for managing information in the air and on the ground throughout the lifecycle of the airplane.

An Electronic Flight Bag replaces the pilot’s traditional, heavy flight bag with a light hardware and software package that calculates performance, displays charts, improves taxi positional awareness provides video flight deck entry surveillance and allows electronic access to documents. Use of an EFB improves flight data accuracy, ground reports and paper handling and storage costs. It offers airlines advanced information management and delivers more accurate performance calculations, creating significant savings of time and money while increasing safety and streamlining the management of flight information.

The first iPad was introduced just a few years ago, but already it has many uses that are far in advance of its original intention to be primarily an audio visual device.

A friend of mine is a recreational pilot who showed me his iPad navigational app. For a very small fee he is able to view flight charts, airport coordinates, weather conditions, radio frequencies and even plot his course with great accuracy, all on his iPad which he carries with him wherever he goes.

Arguably, heavier-than-air aviation and computers are the two major inventions of the 20th century and in the 21st century we will probably see both industries to meld more often in order to offer safer, cleaner, cheaper and more efficient ways to fly.

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