Posted by: Korry | October 10, 2011

Steve Jobs: The Simplifier

Steve Jobs aimed to make the world simpler…and he succeeded.

Remember when you had binder after binder of CDs sitting around? Steve Jobs said we didn’t need those binders anymore. Instead, we just needed a tiny iPod that could carry all our musical collections in one place. He simplified our life and it changed an industry.

CDs and iPod

Now, Apple’s iPad is helping to simplify the way people and businesses operate. Can it do the same for airline flight decks? I believe it already is.

A few weeks ago, I was getting out of the hotel shuttle at the Charlotte, North Carolina airport. As the driver was removing my bags from the van, he looked at my flight kit bag and asked “Why do all you guys carry these bags around?”

Flight Kit Bag

The answer is that the flight kit bag contains all of our company issued airplane manuals, policies and procedures manuals, and also several thick binders stuffed with navigation charts for all over the world. Each pilot carries one of these bags on every flight.

Inside of the Kit Bag

This briefcase is my “office in a bag” because I take the 35 pound bag with me everywhere I go, all across the globe.

Almost no one really likes these bags. In fact, I’d guess the only thing most pilots enjoy about the bags is being able to put a few stickers on the side to show a little personality! (The captain who went with me to Voodoo Doughnuts bought a sticker and put it on his bag!) Pilots complain about the need to meticulously revise the thousands of bible-paper thin charts within the bag on a very regular basis (such as the ones pictured below)…

Example of Approach Charts

And most pilots also don’t care for the bags because they’re heavy and can lead to injury, especially to the rotator cuff from maneuvering the bag around the crews’ seats and into the designated spots on the sides of the flight deck. This also means the company doesn’t like them because of the increased risk for on-the-job injury claims and thus reduced productivity.

But more than anything, the company doesn’t like the weight of the bags since the extra weight means additional fuel is needed to cart them around all over the place. Every pound of weight on an airplane causes more fuel to be burned, and with fuel prices where they are, every airline is incredibly weight conscious these days. I’ve heard of some airlines even limiting the number of pages in the inflight magazine to save weight. Sounds silly, but a few pages per magazine with hundreds of copies per plane and thousands of flights per day, adds up to serious amounts of weight and thus fuel savings over time.

Surely, there must be a better way, right? Enter Steve Jobs and the iPad!

General Aviation has been using the iPad for navigational charting for some time now. Finally, airlines are getting on the tablet bandwagon, too.

There are numerous advantages to “electronic flight bags”, or EFBs. First and foremost, EFBs such as the iPad will save a tremendous amount of weight. That should drastically cut down fuel usage and crew injuries. Second, airlines should save on company manual and navigation chart printing and distribution costs. Third, iPads will facilitate automatic updating of charts and manuals so crews will be assured of having the most up-to-date and accurate info available.

Operationally, EFB’s allow pilots to put their fingers on the right information at the right time. Locating the correct charts or airspace intersections (just like an intersection on a road) is as easy as a few taps on the pad instead of significant time searching through printed documents. The iPad even offers GPS technology that can overlay the aircraft’s position onto the charts pilots use, which will lead to even better situational awareness for crews. This will be particularly helpful on the ground where airports can often be quite confusing to navigate.

I can even envision a day in the not-too-distant future where apps are designed to deliver all the flight paperwork (which is an obscene amount) wirelessly and paperlessly to the flight deck. Certain aspects of pilot training and record keeping could be done through the EFBs as well. Quite simply, the iPad and EFB’s in general are streamlining countless aspects of the flight deck, and who knows where that will stop!

Of course, there are also challenges. The FAA has concerns about iPads or EFBs that are not directly attached to the airplane and powered by aircraft generated electricity. (What if a pilot drops it? What if the battery dies?) But I’m confident that these concerns will eventually be alleviated by designing cradles or some other way to hardwire and affix the device.

Still, I’m excited and optimistic about using iPads on the flight deck. It will serve as an invaluable tool. It is a game changer, and most of all, it’s a simplifier…which is just the way Mr. Jobs would have wanted it.

Do you use iPads or tablet devices at your work? How have they helped to make your work simpler and more efficient?

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Responses

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