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iPads in cockpits may hasten end for paper charts

Bloomberg  |  New York 

Apple’s iPad won approval from US regulators to display navigational charts for some charter pilots, a step that may speed the end of the decades-old tradition of paper maps in the cockpit.

With the (FAA) endorsing iPads in a test project at Executive Jet Management, a unit of Warren Buffett’s NetJets, the way is open for pilots at airlines and other commercial carriers to seek authorisation for the devices, said Les Dorr, an agency spokesman.

IPad use by professional pilots would support Apple’s goal of winning more business buyers. The company’s total corporate sales may rise 51 per cent to $11.3 billion in 2011, said Brian Marshall, a Gleacher & Co analyst in San Francisco. Revenue was $76.3 billion last year.

“This is mission-critical computing,” said Marshall, who has a “buy” rating on Cupertino, California-based Apple. “For them to win this type of approval speaks volumes about the level of sophistication of what can be accomplished with the iPad.”

Charts showing data such as airports and radio frequencies for a state or region have been staples of US flying since the 1930s, when they replaced the road maps used by early aviators. With private pilots already able to use electronic navigation devices, the practice of following a pencil-on-paper route has been fading in recent years.

18-pound bag
So-called electronic flight bags (EFBs), computers configured for aviation use, began winning FAA approval for use at airlines in the last decade, supplanting paper charts. A unit from Milwaukee-based Astronautics Corporation of America weighs 18 pounds (8.2 kg), 12 times as much as the iPad.

Apple’s tablet wasn’t cleared as a navigation device in a professional cockpit until FAA’s February 1 approval to Cincinnati-based Executive Jet, whose parent, NetJets, is owned by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Executive Jet said it made 250 flights as part of the certification process.

While the decision only covers Executive Jet, commercial carriers now have a template for winning permission for iPad use, according to Jeppesen, the Boeing map and accessory business that designed the application in the test.

Pilots at Alaska Air Group’s Alaska Airlines, which uses only paper charts in its 116 aircraft, are testing iPads for some functions, said Marianne Lindsey, a spokeswoman. AMR Corp’s American Airlines and American Eagle rely on paper charts in its 900-plane fleet, said Ed Martelle, a spokesman.

First Published: Tue, March 08 2011. 00:33 IST