Imagine this, you are a pilot getting ready for a flight from New York to San Francisco. As you prepare to board your plane, you pick up your flight bag which contains all the navigation charts, runway information and schedules you might need for your trip. That flight bag weighs in at around 20-30 lbs, the size of a 2-3 year child. Once on the plane, you pick through the flight bag, grabbing the pages you need and pinning them to clipboards so you can easy read them. Sounds a bit archaic in this day and age, doesn't it?
Those flight bags are prepared from information that is managed by Jeppesen, a Boeing subsidiary involved in infrastructure to transmit navigation data to end devices for airlines and their pilots. Jeppesen has thousands of employees in each airport around the world, updating these flight bags. The flight bags must be updated at least once a month according to FAA regulations, and unfortunately, there is a high margin for error in manually updating the flight bags: think missing pages (charts, runway schedules), duplicate pages, etc...
A few years ago, Jeppesen decided this approach was not the best way of doing things, so they embarked on a Nuxeo project. Originally the idea was to put a laptop in each plane, but with the changes in technology, that approach changed. Now Jeppesen uses Nuxeo as the core server and it synchronizes with iPads to be used by the pilots. To give you an idea of how big this is, Jeppesen put in an order with Apple for 200,000 iPads.
These iPads allow pilots to have information in near real time, downloading new information each time they hook back into a network when they are on the ground (they are not connected to the Internet while in the sky).
This project is being deployed over a number of years. The first airline to test it out was American Airlines. In an article by the Wall Street Journal in June of 2013, American Airlines said that it had rolled out its iPad program and its 8,000 pilots now had about 3,000 less pages to lug around. JetBlue Airways had also received regulatory clearance, and a number of other airlines were following suit.
If this doesn’t sound like a huge deal to you, consider that American Airlines claims lugging around this massive flight bag was the primary cause of injury for its pilots. Still not a “wow”? How about this?
“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.”
Jeppesen supports 85% of the pilots worldwide (commercial, non-commercial, freight), and every one of them must have a flight bag by law. Think about that pilot flying from New York to San Francisco. What if for some reason he needs to land somewhere earlier than expected due to an unforeseen problem, bad weather, or maybe a sick passenger? With the flight bag, he would have to dig through thousands of pages to find a new runway location, and figure out the best way to land the plane. Is it not easier to touch a few screens on the iPad to get this information quickly? I’m sure the pilot is thrilled to have an iPad on his flight.
Jeppesen is focused on getting its iPads out to other airlines, and it is looking at other ways to put other information on the the iPads. For now, it’s the read only navigation information the pilot needs to fly the plane safely. Of course, the FAA has stringent regulations on the security of this information and that security is critical to Jeppesen’s success.
The iPad is much cheaper, healthier and environmentally friendly for everyone involved. You couldn’t ask for a better success story if you tried.