Electronic Flight Bag Now in All American Cockpits

Anyone who has spent time in an airport has most likely seen pilots “towing” their luggage from gate to gate. This includes their kitbag, which contains more than 35 pounds of required paper-based reference material and aircraft manuals.

Thanks to technology, that load just got a lot lighter and the often well-worn, oversized leather briefcase is quickly becoming a thing of the past. As of this June, all American Airlines pilots have replaced the paper in those kitbags with a much lighter, environmentally friendly and technologically advanced alternative: the Apple iPad, which pilots refer to as an Electronic Flight Bag.

We’ve been working toward this for some time. After securing FAA approval in April to use the iPad on all of our current fleet types — Boeing 777, 767, 757, 737 and MD-80 — we made the decision to discontinue issuing paper copies of the charts and manuals. This makes American the first major commercial airline to fully utilize iPad tablets in all cockpits during all phases of flight.

We’ve come a long way since we first approached the FAA in 2010 with the idea to use an Apple iPad in the cockpit. As you might imagine, the initial reaction was not unexpected. Even to some at American, the concept sounded pretty unusual: Take a consumer electronic device — one just recently introduced to the world — and develop a program for use in our cockpits. But we were persistent and our innovative thinking paid off. We partnered with Jeppesen, a unit of Boeing Digital Aviation, to adapt its FAA-approved Jeppesen mobile terminal chart application for our airline and began testing it on our Boeing 777 aircraft in June 2011.

By removing kitbags from our planes, American saves a minimum of 400,000 gallons of fuel at a cost of $1.2 million annually, based on current fuel prices. Since fuel is our No. 1 cost, that savings alone makes investing in tablets good business sense. But the Electronic Flight Bag program also supports our environmental efforts by eliminating a total of 24 million pages of paper previously carried by pilots and instructors.

More than 8,000 iPads have been deployed to date, and all American pilots now enjoy the benefits of their 1.35-pound Electronic Flight Bag. Prior to the iPad, I spent several hours every month manually updating six or more paper manuals (approximately 3,000 pages total) in my kitbag, but now electronic updates take only minutes.

American’s creative approach to incorporating new technology continues to play a significant role throughout our operation, and the Electronic Flight Bag is an example of one of our most recent successes.

Capt. David Clark is American’s Senior Manager of Flight Operations Efficiency and Quality Control. He has been with American for 24 years and oversees the airline’s Electronic Flight Bag program. He is also an MD-80 pilot based at American’s Dallas/Fort Worth hub. Capt. Clark recently completed a 30-year career in the United States Air Force, where he served on both active duty and in the Reserves before retiring as a colonel.

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