SkyTeam alliance member Delta Air Lines has started testing Apple iPads as electronic flight bags (EFBs), as part of a broader plan to transform how it communicates with its global, mobile pilot workforce.
In a weekly update, obtained by Air Transport Intelligence and Flightglobal, Delta senior vice-president-flight operations Steve Dickson revealed the carrier has deployed 22 of the tablet devices to pilots for testing in flight.
Each test device is loaded with an identical suite, and pilots involved in the programme have the capability to download additional apps that customise the product and lend to Delta's capabilities.
"We're loading Jeppesen Mobile TC charting software, a GoodReader document viewer that contains all of our manuals in an electronic format, and the Journey browser, which allows access to iCrew. A Delta Meteorology app provides access to pilot-tailored graphical weather information and real-time looped Delta radar. Each pilot will have access to their Delta e-mail account and calendar," said Dickson.
"The tablets have also been loaded with a writing app for notes, an Atomic web browser, a PDF viewer, a Wi-Fi finder app, and crew rest and cruise rest period calculators. Both Wi-Fi and 3G are available domestically."
Delta has already fitted its domestic fleet with Gogo's air-to-ground (ATG)-based in-flight Wi-Fi solution, and has been studying connectivity options for its international fleet.
The carrier's goal is to determine the viability of tablets to allow it to remain continuously connected with its pilots.
"Where we are currently constrained for touch points between the OCC [operational control centre] and Flight Ops, a tablet device opens the door for us to have nearly unlimited communication access," said Dickson, noting that the carrier can push important information to pilots regardless of location in real time.
"Imagine having searchable information for all facets of the operation that is always up to date with 'pushed' information. We can use a tablet device to transform our training and eliminate different operating system limitations," he said. "Our IROP [irregular operations] recovery time will decrease with instant communication capability."
The Delta executive said the carrier can also explore on-line base visits where pilots can interact with leadership from anywhere in the world.
"We are going to pursue real-time security advisories, reroute information and electronic auto sign-in when [pilots] are in range of the airport or a specific gate. A tablet device sets the foundation for a paperless cockpit of course with flight plan and charter packet uploads, theatre guides and trans-oceanic step by step information, simplified NOTAMs, e-Checklists, and instant reporting access just to name a few opportunities. Essentially, we have only begun to identify the limitless possibilities, and there is no question that we see this as a potential to change the way we do business both immediately and long-term," added Dickson.
Once the iPad tests are complete, Delta will swap the platforms to 16 Motorola Xooms with Android OS by mid-September. The airline is also evaluating options for a third tablet device.
Some 50 evaluation pilots are divided into three groups for testing each product. Each tester has been authorised to use the tablet pre-flight and above 10,000ft, and all participants have been advised that the tablet is to be used only for operational purposes.
"Although the focus is currently on our domestic operation due to constraints with Wi-Fi and cellular contracts, the evaluator pilots come from all fleets and include instructors, Line Check Pilots, AQFOs, and ALPA and Chief Pilot Office representatives," said Delta.
"Over 50% of the testers are line pilots currently not holding any additional positions. Many have technical expertise, but roughly a quarter of our testers rated themselves as 'tech un-savvy'. We need to make sure a solution is user friendly to any pilot, no matter their IT skill level while providing us a top of the line product that gives us long term expansion capabilities."
Dickson stressed that Delta is not looking at this concept as simply a traditional EFB.
"We have expanded our vision beyond how other carriers are utilising tablet devices and see its potential as a complete two-way communication tool," said Dickson.