United Airlines cockpits take cyber turn with iPad navigation app

DENVER — United and Continental pilots are going paperless in the cockpit, replacing heavy paper flight manuals with Apple iPads loaded with an aviation-navigation application created by Colorado-based Jeppesen.

Distribution of the iPads began earlier this month. All of United Continental Holdings' 11,000 pilots will have them by year's end.

Airline officials say the pilots' use of the 1.5-pound iPad instead of about 38 pounds of charts, logbooks and handbooks will save 16 million sheets of paper and 326,000 gallons of jet fuel each year.

Not only will fuel economy improve by not carrying that weight on United's 5,765 flights a day, aviation experts say the "electronic flight bags" are more easily updated.

"The paperless flight deck represents the next generation of flying," Capt. Fred Abbott, United's senior vice president of flight operations, said in a news release.


The iPad technology "ensures our pilots have essential and real-time information at their fingertips at all times throughout the flight," Abbott said.

Jeppesen, a leading aviation-navigation company based near Centennial Airport south of Denver, began developing the iPad app shortly after the digital device came onto the market in April 2010.

Jeppesen Mobile FliteDeck is the result of about 100 Jeppesen employees' work.

"So far, it's been downloaded by pilots over 130,000 times" since the app was introduced a year ago, said Rick Ellerbrock, Jeppesen's chief aviation strategist.

The Federal Aviation Administration began by approving the electronic product for use by private pilots, business-aviation pilots, military pilots and small commercial pilots, and now is allowing testing in large commercial aircraft, Ellerbrock said.

United, the world's largest airline and Denver's largest carrier, is the first among major network carriers to switch to the technology.

Alaska Airlines moved to iPads this summer, and others, such as American and Delta, are testing the new technology.

The FAA requires six months of tests before the cockpit goes digital-only. Ellerbrock said another requirement is redundancy, with both pilot and co-pilot using authorized iPads to back each other up.


In the "extremely unlikely" event that both pilots' iPads fail, Ellerbrock said, navigation information can be radioed from the ground.

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