American extends iPads to 737 and MD-80 cockpits

Washington DC
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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given American Airlines approval to use Apple iPad electronic flight bags (EFBs) on its Boeing 737 and MD-80 fleets, says David Clark, manager, flight operations efficiency and quality assurance at American Airlines.

On 25 January, American plans to submit a formal request to extend the approval to its 106 Boeing 757-200, 15 Boeing 767-200ER and 58 767-300ER aircraft, says Clark.

"The goal right now is by the first of April, all of our aircraft will be a paperless operation," said Clark.

The carrier announced its plans to install fight bags on its Boeing 777 fleet in September 2012 after becoming the first Part 121 commercial carrier to receive FAA approval for the tablets during all phases of flight.

American has equipped just more than 70% of its fleet with the iPads across the three aircraft types. The 757 and 767 approvals are the last aircraft types in the fleet to be equipped with the tablets. The airline had 195 Boeing 737-800s, 191 MD80s, 47 777-200s and two 777-300ERs in its fleet as of December 2012.

All American pilots have been issued iPads, says Clark. The airline coordinates with the AMR Certificate Management Office in Fort Worth, Texas to gain approval to use them on each aircraft type.

American is using the iPad as a "class 1" EFB that does not remain a permanent fixture in the aircraft or use aircraft power. Therefore, the airline does not have to undergo the supplemental type certificate (STC) process to gain approval for their use.

"We specifically avoided the STC process for time and cost," said Clark.

For aircraft types added after the 777s, Clark says the airline can typically start a 30-day line test of the technology a day or two after submitting the formal approval to the FAA. If that test goes well, the airline can then receive formal "op spec" approval to operate the iPads within three to four days.

American made its first test flight with an iPad in June 2011. The airline estimates it could save $1.2 million in fuel annually from the weight savings achieved by eliminating traditional flight bags, which can weigh up to 50 pounds.