Two years ago Delta Air Lines quietly began the process of building a business case for developing an information system that would harness the power of in-flight connectivity and could be incorporated into its airline operations.
At that time, nobody at Delta wanted to talk about the top-secret Future Operations Communications Information System (FOCIS) project, which envisaged treating each of Delta’s Gogo-connected aircraft – and ultimately a connected international fleet – as a node on its IT network.
But in Delta’s Flight Operations Weekly Update, dated 14 August and obtained by RWG, company senior vice-president-flight operations Steve Dickson finally revealed some details of the carrier’s initial strategy, which includes staying in touch with its pilot workforce through connected electronic flight bags (EFBs).
Some 50 pilots, divided into three groups, have been selected to test various tablets, starting with the Apple iPad and moving next to the Motorola Xoom, and potentially a third type. Read about it on Flightglobal’s dedicated IFEC/interiors channel.
Dickson doesn’t mince words when he says: “I have no doubt that this is the beginning of reshaping how we do business in Flight Ops. It will transform how we handle information, how we communicate, and how we operate the jet.”
Obviously, there are still plenty of open questions about Delta’s plan.
One somewhat critical industry observer notes:
“The FAA would go ape shit if the carrier allowed any type of critical data to be accessed through the [Gogo] cabin connectivity. You can do certain non-critical things, such as real-time weather mapping. One of the things you don’t want to have is more distraction in the cockpit. How much do you want to give pilots? Do you want them to focus on the instruments? Right now, in the wake of the AF447 crash, the big discussion is how do you train the pilots to fly [my colleague David Learmount argues that pilot skills are atrophying]. So yes, Delta wants to do this, but is this something that all airlines will embark on? No.”
So what’s the immediate next step for ambitious Delta?
“Along with the tablet testing, in the next few weeks, Flight Ops will be hosting an Information Optimization Team that is comprised of Flight Ops Leadership, technical writers, Chief and Lead Line Check Pilots, line pilots and ALPA representatives,” says Dickson.
“I have chartered this group to design what our information structure would look like in a paperless and electronic environment. We are anticipating that IOT recommendations will take about 24 months to implement, and we hope to execute in conjunction with the tablet product development and deployment. It will include an interim strategy taking the Jeppesen Airside Kit into account and a transition plan to an electronic information format.”