Apple iPads can be found in airport lounges. Apple iPads are being used as airport check-in kiosks. Apple iPads have been handed to flight attendants to personalize the passenger experience. Apple iPads are being distrubted to pilots to use as electronic flight bags (EFBs). At virtually every touch point in the travel experience – and inside the cockpit – the iPad tablet computer has taken the aviation industry by storm.
And why not? It seems to be the next best thing since sliced bread (and yes there is an app for baking bread).
The iPad is a transmitting personal electronic device or T-PED so naturally it is at its most useful, its most engaging, its most fantastic state when it is connected.
However, while connected iPads make sense for passengers, connected iPad-turned-EFBs for commercial pilots still need to jump a few hurdles. For starters, stakeholders need to be sure that iPads transmitting in real time in flight don’t interfere with avionics.
One long-time pilot, who flies for a major Gogo-equipped airline in the United States, thinks concerns about electro magnetic interference with avionics is a lot of stuff and nonsense, and, hello, would like to have access to the same information as passengers in the cabin, via an iPad.
Here’s our friendly captain’s take on connected iPads in the cockpit:
“The iPad has the potential to be very, very effective in our environment. I can’t imagine a scenario of a security threat. Elementary fire walls would take care of that sort of thing.
“What’s ironic is that we’re cruising along and I’m limited to looking at my forward looking radar looking 200-some miles ahead and looking at weather from that perspective instead of being able to access – like the person in first class or economy with their iPad or laptop connected to Gogo – all the things I like to access before I leave on a flight, like real time weather mapping. They have access to that in flight. I could do it, but it’s against our policies for me to open up my laptop and connect to Gogo, but it’s kind of ironic to me that we don’t have access to it.
“I’m thinking we could really, really harness that power and be so much better informed in the cockpit than we are now, and of course the company is looking at this as an end all and be all communications device.”
But, says I, what do you make of the recent kerfuffle regarding Wi-Fi interference with Honeywell display units (discovered during Gogo STC on Boeing 737NG aircraft)?
“I guarantee that every single flight there are at least a couple dozen devices that are ‘on’ from taxi to takeoff to cruise to landing to taxing in. I’ve never ever seen any evidence that a personal electronic device has any effect on navigation communication or displays. You could have a Ham Radio in the back and it wouldn’t affect us. There are many times I’ve forgotten to turn off my own iPhone and I’ve observed no in-flight abnormality whatsoever. This is one pilot that basically pooh-poohs the idea that these airplanes need to be hardened further, because I believe they are shielded enough today.
“If everything blanked out it would be very disturbing. If it blanks out and stays blanked out, then I’m concerned. Sometimes displays go a little wonky and then settle down. It has nothing to do with interference, but that’s the nature of the equipment.
“[Concerns over interference] is a bunch of poppycock. Then there was the Northwest Airlines crew that were supposedly busy on their laptops (I’m not exactly sure that was happening in that cockpit). The bottom line in that incident was not that they were using electronic devices in the cockpit. The problem was that they were completely oblivious to what the aircraft was doing. I’ve seen, over the years, we’re reading books and newspapers in the cockpit because, if you sit for many hours of flight and stare at instrumentation, that’s when safety is compromised because your mind is not engaged.”
Okay, okay. It’s all well and good to use a connected iPad as a Class I or Class II EFB, but what about Class III?
“If you’re plugging [your EFB] into the actual flight management system you’re definitely introducing possible threats and concerns regarding security and in that case, we’d have to have a separate data pipe and that may be what [naysayers] are thinking because that would be a way to keep us from surfing the web at will and checking our own email and going to personal sites.”