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OM in the News: Cockpits Go Paperless

June 29, 2013
United pilots use iPads in the cockpit

United pilots use iPads in the cockpit

Airline pilots, who fly some of the world’s most technologically advanced machines, have long relied on paper navigation charts and manuals, which clutter the cockpit and have to be lugged around in cases that can weigh as much as a small child. Now, however, airlines are catching up with the tablet era, reports The Wall Street Journal (June 27, 2013).

JetBlue Airways just received FAA clearance to provide its 2,500 pilots with Apple iPads that will store digital copies of the heavy paper manuals they refer to during flights. American Airlines said its 8,000 pilots had largely gone paperless now that the carrier has completed the rollout of its own iPad program. By storing manuals and navigation charts on iPads, American figures it has eliminated 3,000 pages of paper per pilot. In April, United started requiring its 10,000 pilots to carry iPads. Southwest started an iPad trial with 150 pilots this month and expects to expand it to an additional 550 pilots in the third quarter.

The volume of paper traditionally required by cockpit crews is almost overwhelming in the confines of a cockpit. American estimates that removing the bags from all its planes saves about 400,000 gallons of fuel annually, worth $1.2 million at current prices. One Alaska Airlines pilot said having the approach plates, arrival charts and runway diagrams available at the touch of a tablet is a lot quicker and more user-friendly. “It’s about information management, the human factors of managing charts,” he said. The change helps pilots be “safe and compliant” and helps the airline run a “better business.”

This is a great article to share with your class when you are discussing Technology in Services in Chapter 7.

Discussion questions:

1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the paperless cockpit?

2. What are the operations issues involved here?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 4, 2013 5:33 pm

    There is always a fear that reliance on technology leads to risk. What if the batteries on the iPad fail? But, you can spill coffee on paper maps too! I have a preference for paper, and many of my students do too, largely because it is easier on the eyes. However, I believe displays will improve soon. For example, Apple’s new Retina display is something I am looking forward to in my next computer.

  2. July 4, 2013 9:50 pm

    Thanks, Steve. I think a major factor for the airlines is weight and fuel so they won’t turn back.

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