Image credit: AW&ST
Airlines have been replacing those 40 pound briefcases that pilots used to carry, filled with paper maps, checklists and logs, with iPads. It's been a great success. But now that the airlines are also starting to provide Wi-Fi in the aircraft, the question arises: What else should pilots be allowed to do with those iPads during flight?
Back in January, Aviation Week & Space Technology (AWST) editor John Croft was tipped off to the the fact that some pilots were using those tablets for web surfing or other activities not related to the flight. Some pilots have even, according to Mr. Croft, been thinking about the use of Netflix.
In the May 12th issue, John Croft continued the discussion with "Managing Wi-Fi And Apps On Cockpit Tablets." The discussion was informative and sobering.
Now that, for example, United Airlines is installing Wi-Fi on its aircraft, the company is beginning to develop standards for its more than 11,000 pilots who carry iPads. The article quotes Joe Burns, senior technical advisor for flight operations for United Airlines who described the bandwidth that's carved out for just the cockpit. “[The bandwidth] is not enough to watch Netflix videos, but we’ve heard that complaint. That tells me we have to go back and work on standards issues.”
This is now a topic of ongoing discussion and surfaced at a recent AWST conference in Phoenix, AZ. Both United and FedEx are looking at a mobile device manager (MDM) from AirWatch that allows the airlines to provision and manage what the iPad can do and to enforce airline usage and security policy.
Mr. Croft explained that the MDM gives an airline the ability to "update documents across a fleet, track a lost iPad and erase its contents, see what applications pilots have downloaded and delete any that shouldn’t be there." On the other hand, UAL has agreed with the Air Line Pilots Association that officials cannot read the pilot's email.
That policy extends to controlling access to apps, creating a white list of apps that pilots can be loaded, and reporting what apps pilots have downloaded. The airline also has to make sure there's enough memory remaining on the iPad to conduct the critical operations for which the iPad was originally intended, such as navigation.
The reality is that while some pilots may have engaged in some non-flight related activities, others may have specific technical needs. That UAL white list is governed by requests to a user's group. For example, some pilots may need a destination city's subway map or certain useful weather apps.
The Passenger Perspective
All along, our best hope has been that our pilots were always acting professionally. The fact is, in previous times, there really wasn't much to do except monitor the aircraft, eat, sleep (for the pilot or co-pilot, but not both and not during takeoff and landing), or read.
The introduction the iPad plus cockpit Wi-Fi has opened the door to some very tempting pilot activities not related to the flight, so it's nice to see that United Airlines and FedEx are taking a proactive stand to define how the iPad should best be used.