Alaska Airlines ditches paper flight manuals for iPads

The iPad is already the most popular tablet-based PC product there is, by a long shot. Now the device is starting to actually replace paper manuals in some business fields. The latest such development in this area comes from Alaska Airlines. The company announced on Friday that its pilots will replace its paper flight manuals with iPads. The policy will be in place fully by mid-June and represents the first major US airline to make such a move.

Pilot manuals on paper are, as you might imagine, highly complex and detailed. They also take up a ton of space in a pilot's cockpit and weight up to 25 pounds, according to the press release. Alaska Airlines says that the pilots' iPads contain an app "that is loaded with PDF versions of 41 flight, systems and performance manuals, reference cards, and other materials." Updating the flight manuals will only take a tap on an iPad's screen instead of having to replace individual pages in a paper manual.

This likely the first of many developments to come in this area. More and more airlines are likely to follow Alaska Airlines lead. In addition, the company says it is also thinking about replacing  "paper aeronautical navigation charts with electronic versions on the iPad." According to the press release the combination of replacing the paper flight manuals and the paper navigation charts will save the company a whopping 2.4 million pieces of paper. Even the planes themselves will benefit as taking out all those manuals will make the aircraft lighter thus increasing the savings on fuel. Finally the press release says, "Further savings are expected from fewer back and muscle injuries caused by pilots carrying flight bags that can tip the scales at 50 pounds or more fully loaded."

Image via Alaska Airlines

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You know they are going to be playing Top Gun instead of Anrgy Birds

"hmmmm hmmmm hmmm hmmm danger zone"

I am guessing that the iPads aren't just for manuals. Ability to search the manual would be a nice feature and maybe an app to view the information of the people inside the plane? But if isn't locked down I am sure angry birds will be there for sure.

thnok said,
I am guessing that the iPads aren't just for manuals. Ability to search the manual would be a nice feature and maybe an app to view the information of the people inside the plane? But if isn't locked down I am sure angry birds will be there for sure.

You can search, bookmark, highlight etc on a PDF on an iPad. The search feature I imagine would be the biggest plus of using an iPad instead of paper

Rail Grinder said,
I wonder how helpful this would be in an emergency when the battery's all drained or when the screen's cracked.

which is another point. they probably can't get rid of the paper manuals anyway, and they will probably still need to be manually updated, iPad or not. Flight regulations most likely requires paper based manuals on board, after all they are the only ones that won't break down or otherwise suffer technical faults, and can even work in any kind of conditions, even if the windshield break and it's raining into the cockpit.

HawkMan said,

which is another point. they probably can't get rid of the paper manuals anyway, and they will probably still need to be manually updated, iPad or not. Flight regulations most likely requires paper based manuals on board, after all they are the only ones that won't break down or otherwise suffer technical faults, and can even work in any kind of conditions, even if the windshield break and it's raining into the cockpit.
iPads have been explicitly approved by regulators for these purposes, actually. I believe it may be the only device allowed to do so, another knock against Kindles...

Rail Grinder said,
I wonder how helpful this would be in an emergency when the battery's all drained or when the screen's cracked.

FAA regulations require a paper backup at all times, if the iPad broke, you always have the redundancy.

This is one instance I can't make fun of this decision really. It is so much easier to navigate around on an Ipad than it is on a Kindle. Seriously. Pinch and zoom alone, makes it a great navigation tool for the ocean as well. Microsoft is getting exactly what they asked for by being late to this party and giving Apple the goods. Lets just see if they can steal that contract away from Alaska by making the Slates, better and cheaper in the end.

Would they have to keep them on for the entire flight? If a plane was crashing, they wouldn't be able to wait for the device to boot.

Meph said,
Would they have to keep them on for the entire flight? If a plane was crashing, they wouldn't be able to wait for the device to boot.

On standby, and plugged in at a power source I imagine (the iPad lasts for weeks on stand by anyway)

I'm sure that for training this would be an excellent idea, however, in the actual field where a pilot or engineer needs to quickly look up and cross-reference information this might not be so useful.

TGT said,
I'm sure that for training this would be an excellent idea, however, in the actual field where a pilot or engineer needs to quickly look up and cross-reference information this might not be so useful.

no going through 25pounds of books is so much faster then to enter a search query

Shadowzz said,

no going through 25pounds of books is so much faster then to enter a search query

A stack of paper will survive a large knock as the pilot wrestle to control a malfunctioning plane or heavy turbulence. While amazingly durable an iPad is, there is a sizable chance it will simply break.

Not to mention if you are going up and down in an unstable plane (like when you are "on top" >_>) I'm guessing typing search query or merely pressing for the search query may not be the easiest thing. I have people needing multiple attempts to search a simple thing in the comfort of a desk.

Shadowzz said,

no going through 25pounds of books is so much faster then to enter a search query

We have a "new" technology called Index that makes that task so much easier than it used to be back when paper scrolls were the norm ¬¬

In a dire situation one can also employ another incredible discovery that goes by the name Apendix!!!

...no but really, I am all for gradually phasing out paper where applicable, but on a life or death situation like this I would be wary of trusting a tablet to hold vital information (be it Ipad or w/e). Most likely both will coexist for a long time to come anyway, I don't see old savvy pilots trowing their book habits out of the window in a whim like that, specially when the big headline behind all of this is clear: profit.

And yes, I do realize we already trust on MUCH more complex and numerous and fail prone devices and hardware on a plane than a crappy Ipad, but those are a necessity. What bothers me in this scenario is that the reasoning behind the switch do not outweigh the risk they might be taking.

A kindle would be a smarter choice from many perspectives, but as pointed out already the current generation E-Ink don't have enough DPI to their needs. But there is already a fully colored higher resolution e-ink in the process of coming to the market so I can definitely change my mind when said tech rolls out.

*711 said,

.. than a crappy Ipad
...
A kindle would be a smarter choice from many perspectives

Sums up your opinion really. You don't like the iPad for whatever reason, provide a list of reasons why they shouldn't be using a piece of technology for a life or death situation then recommend a kindle at the end?!

What advantage does a kindle have over an iPad in a life of death situation? None. They both have the same technological pitfalls

DomZ said,
...They both have the same technological pitfalls

Kindle is just an option, I meant E-Ink displays actually, just so happens that Amazon's offering is the best we can get on the broad market today (I thought It was obvious on my post... apparently not). And no, they do not "have the same technological pitfalls", that is just false.

I would gladly put some more info behind my opinion (previously left out because 1. both device's technical specs should be obvious to people that frequent this site and 2. my post was already growing too large) but I always forget we thread on thin ice on Apple threads. The fact that you read some sort of prejudice (not bias, after all it's my personal opinion so of course its biased) on my post clearly shows I don't have any business expanding this conversation any further.

The only thing I can concede is the "crappy Ipad" line was a bad choice of words indeed. I didn't mean the Ipad in itself is a bad product, rather I was trying to imply that tablets and personal class computing are years behind what you find on a high end plane (complexity, quality control, maintenance, standards, ...) and even those present errors.

yeah great idea..... until the plane has a problem, and your iPad has a dead battery..... great idea...... maybe eink would be better as it can run for a month with no recharge?

Stewart Gilligan Griffin said,
yeah great idea..... until the plane has a problem, and your iPad has a dead battery..... great idea...... maybe eink would be better as it can run for a month with no recharge?
The iPad's battery could easily last for a cross-atlantic flight only displaying a PDF, and probably two - not that the iPads will be on the whole time, so let's say several flights. Not to mention the enormous power supply available on a plane... I imagine these would be left charging when not in use.

Simon said,
The iPad's battery could easily last for a cross-atlantic flight only displaying a PDF, and probably two - not that the iPads will be on the whole time, so let's say several flights. Not to mention the enormous power supply available on a plane... I imagine these would be left charging when not in use.

And with normal lithium batteries lasting 300 charges, that means that these will need replacement at least once a year.

yeah, great idea

HawkMan said,

And with normal lithium batteries lasting 300 charges, that means that these will need replacement at least once a year.

yeah, great idea

They last 300 full power cycles. So unplugging for 10 minutes and plugging back in doesn't count as one charge. As long as they run the battery down and back up once a month, and otherwise just keep them charging all the time, they should be fine.

Stewart Gilligan Griffin said,
yeah great idea..... until the plane has a problem, and your iPad has a dead battery..... great idea...... maybe eink would be better as it can run for a month with no recharge?

FYI, modern airplanes have glass (aka electronic) cockpits anyways...and there are turbines that would generate emergency electricity...I'm sure an extra iPad draining power is a non-issue then.

Simon said,
They last 300 full power cycles. So unplugging for 10 minutes and plugging back in doesn't count as one charge. As long as they run the battery down and back up once a month, and otherwise just keep them charging all the time, they should be fine.

only half correct. whatever part of the battery that has been used, will still have had it's charge. and will die. This is the reason lithium batteries after a year will have significantly reduced capacity. even though unlike NiMh they don't get "memory" from small charging and it's often recommended to small charge them.

it's also the recommended way because normal people are idiots, and if you tell them to empty the battery completely before charging, they're gonna forget to charge it and leave it lying about, losing the remaining safety charge. and a completely empty Lithium battery is a dead lithium battery, as in permanently.

metallithrax said,
I'd like to think that my pilot knew what he was doing without resorting to a book for help.

They are for when the plane is hit by lightning, loses two engines and hydraulic pressure, etc... The book tells them what systems they can shut down and so forth.

metallithrax said,
I'd like to think that my pilot knew what he was doing without resorting to a book for help.
Sure, it would be great to think that... but it's just untrue. I'm not saying that these pilots aren't good at their job, but different flight conditions require different information, and with complex machines like jets, it's simply impossible to memorize the whole manual. It would be like expecting a programmer to know the entire documentation for a complex language off by heart - sure, it would be convenient, but it's enormously impractical, since you never need 80% of the information available.

cralias said,
Because Kindle doesn't run Angry Birds, I guess.

In all seriousness, that could be a major problem. Wonder if there'll be any form of security stopping app installs put in place by the airline?

cralias said,
Because Kindle doesn't run Angry Birds, I guess.

I wonder if Apple is paying the Airlines to do this, like they pay movie industries and television broadcasters to use their products. Sigh... Just another way of them controlling our society.

cralias said,
Because Kindle doesn't run Angry Birds, I guess.
It's a kind of forward planning. You can't have things like flight charts on a Kindle.

Kindle's are also poor at displaying graphics of any sort - if these manu8als need to illustrate anything, they will do a better job on an iPad.

And Kindles just suck at displaying PDF's, the format being used here.

Simon said,
It's a kind of forward planning. You can't have things like flight charts on a Kindle.

Kindle's are also poor at displaying graphics of any sort - if these manu8als need to illustrate anything, they will do a better job on an iPad.

And Kindles just suck at displaying PDF's, the format being used here.

Exactly. If you have a look at a few diagrams and enroute charts, you can imagine how difficult it would be to read them on a Kindle... the iPad is much better for this kind of task.

However, I as a pilot am not overly confident that I would trust an iPad enough to leave all my paper charts & manuals at home...

Sayuuk said,

Exactly. If you have a look at a few diagrams and enroute charts, you can imagine how difficult it would be to read them on a Kindle... the iPad is much better for this kind of task.

However, I as a pilot am not overly confident that I would trust an iPad enough to leave all my paper charts & manuals at home...

Not really, all the charts and diagrams they display are in pure black and white. as such, a kindle or any other kind of e-paper e-book reader(maybe one that handles PDF's better) will in fact display them better than the iPad.

Jen Smith said,
Would save them a lot of money as well.

You're assuming they bought it at the market price and that they aren't going to run custom applications on the device either.

Mr Nom Nom's said,
You're assuming they bought it at the market price and that they aren't going to run custom applications on the device either.

The assumption being based on the information given by the article and source as the only use mentioned is the devices being used for PDF viewing, nothing about custom applications. Plus it would have to be a pretty hefty discount as the Kindles typically start well over $300 less an the basic iPad. Not saying the iPad is a bad choice mind you, just more economical if all they're doing is viewing a document.

HawkMan said,

Not really, all the charts and diagrams they display are in pure black and white. as such, a kindle or any other kind of e-paper e-book reader(maybe one that handles PDF's better) will in fact display them better than the iPad.

As someone who actually uses these on a daily basis, you are is wrong. The ability to quickly scroll and flip through the data on the various charts is crucial. Waiting for e-ink to refresh is just not feasible. The charts and diagrams they use are NOT black and white. Recommend you take a look at any Hi or Lo chart, performance table or emergency checklist.

HawkMan said,

Not really, all the charts and diagrams they display are in pure black and white. as such, a kindle or any other kind of e-paper e-book reader(maybe one that handles PDF's better) will in fact display them better than the iPad.


Nav ERC and Approach IAL charts are NOT black and white anymore, since years ago...
I'm not an Ipad fan, but kindle just would not fit. maybe some other Android tablet would work too...

BobSlob said,
The ability to quickly scroll and flip through the data on the various charts is crucial. Waiting for e-ink to refresh is just not feasible.
Just how long do you think it takes to refresh? It's a pretty short amount of time.

I'm sorry, but as a student pilot and aviation enthusiast, I have to call bull****. Putting the lives of all people on a plane into the hands of Apple is just ridiculous.

Most modern planes today come with the option of an "electronic flight bag (EFB)", which does the exact job that Alaska Airlines is trying to push over to the iPad. I can see them doing this to save tons of money by not paying for the EFB, BUT...

...think about this. When a plane has to land in complete fog--landing being already one of the more dangerous segments of flight--all of the information needed to make that landing will be stored on that iPad, a consumer device. Does that make you feel safe?

Alex Khristov said,
I'm sorry, but as a student pilot and aviation enthusiast, I have to call bull****. Putting the lives of all people on a plane into the hands of Apple is just ridiculous.

Most modern planes today come with the option of an "electronic flight bag (EFB)", which does the exact job that Alaska Airlines is trying to push over to the iPad. I can see them doing this to save tons of money by not paying for the EFB, BUT...

...think about this. When a plane has to land in complete fog--landing being already one of the more dangerous segments of flight--all of the information needed to make that landing will be stored on that iPad, a consumer device. Does that make you feel safe?

I have no problem with it. As a jet engine mechanic in the military (T64-GE-416 and T64-GE-416A turboshaft engines), I know the stringent standards and requirements for ANY publication, especially as required by the government. Trust me, the iPad is stable, and the flight manuals MUST be up to date especially on a commercial airliner.

SpeedyTheSnail said,

I have no problem with it. As a jet engine mechanic in the military (T64-GE-416 and T64-GE-416A turboshaft engines), I know the stringent standards and requirements for ANY publication, especially as required by the government. Trust me, the iPad is stable, and the flight manuals MUST be up to date especially on a commercial airliner.

Haha, I'm not worried about how up to date the material is. Even right now, I can go to FAA's website and get the charts I need. What I am worried about is the reliability of the device itself.