Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad won approval from U.S. 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 Federal Aviation Administration approving iPads in test projects at carriers including Executive Jet Management, a unit of Warren Buffett’s NetJets, and Lake in the Woods, Illinois-based N-Jet, the way is open for pilots at airlines and other commercial carriers to seek authorization 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 percent 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 U.S. 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.
So-called electronic flight bags, 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 kilograms), 12 times as much as the iPad.
Apple’s tablet was first cleared as a navigation device in a professional cockpit with FAA’s approval of N-Jets in December. On Feb. 1, the agency certified the Cincinnati-based Executive Jet, whose parent, NetJets, is owned by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A) Executive Jet said it made 250 flights as part of the certification process.
Commercial carriers now have a template for winning permission for iPad use, according to Jeppesen, the Boeing Co. (BA) map and accessory business that designed the application in the Executive Jet test.
Pilots at Alaska Air Group Inc. (ALK)’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. (AMR)’s American Airlines and American Eagle rely on paper charts in its 900-plane fleet, said Ed Martelle, a spokesman.
Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL), the world’s second-largest carrier, is “still vastly paper driven,” according to Gina Laughlin, a spokeswoman. Delta is pursuing approval to test iPads and other tablet devices next quarter, Laughlin said in an e-mail.
“Many air carriers have been using electronic flight bags for years, but they’ve been carrying the paper with them as well,” said Alison Duquette, an FAA spokeswoman. Executive Jet has “been able to demonstrate the reliability of the EFB, in this case the iPad.”
Executive Jet declined to comment beyond President Robert Garrymore’s statement that he was “pleased to collaborate with Jeppesen and the FAA.”
About 145,000 pilots were certified to fly for airlines as of 2009, along with roughly 126,000 others classified as commercial pilots, the FAA estimates. About 212,000 people held active private-pilot licenses.
The iPad’s touch-screen and illumination display could be an advantage over folded paper in finding information such as an emergency-landing site, said John Cox, a former US Airways Group Inc. (LCC) pilot who is now chief executive officer of consultant Safety Operating Systems LLC in Washington. “It’s easier to sort through the charts that you need.”
Part of Jeppesen’s impetus for developing the iPad navigation software was requests from pilots who already use the devices outside of work, said Tim Huegel, the company’s director of portfolio management.
“If you look at the demographic of a pilot, you’re talking well-educated, six-figure income,” Huegel said in an interview. “This was a hardware platform that was adopted in their personal life.”
Jeppesen, the publisher of the industry’s first flight charts, plans to release similar software for iPad competitors running Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android operating system this year, said Jeff Buhl, a senior manager in Jeppesen’s Enterprise Solutions division and product manager for the electronic flight bag app, Jeppesen Mobile TC.
Even pilot training may end up paperless, at least for students preparing for airline jobs. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, is now looking for an electronic device for its students, said Tim Brady, dean of aviation.
When Brady flies, he has his charts in a Samsung Electronics Co. tablet computer roughly the size of an iPad. His paper charts also are at hand.
“For the guys my age, they’ll use an iPad for sure, but there will be that little niggling fear in the background that something is going to happen,” said Brady, 71. “That’s just being old-fashioned I guess.”
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