Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Trading Print Dollars for Digital Dimes in the Paperless Cockpit

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times entitled the Paperless Cockpit. It describes the trend of airlines and private pilots to trade off 40 pounds of paper for a 1.5 pound iPad. One interviewed pilot summed the benefit up succinctly: “When you need to a make a decision in the cockpit, three to four minutes fumbling with paper is an eternity.”

There were a couple of other noteworthy points that the information industry can relate to as pilots embrace the “electronic flight bag”:

Form Factor – The small, easy to carry tablet affords many benefits to pilots. As all professional publishers know, the shift to electronic offerings has been going on for decades. The Information Industry Association, the predecessor to the SIIA was founded over forty years ago for pioneering digital publishers. Early electronic products focused on news and financial data. However, accountants, consultants and lawyers soon got in on the revolution and they helped drive adoption of online, CD-ROM and later web offerings. These road warriors demanded lighter and more functional products. It is no surprise that pilots share those same concerns.

The interesting wrinkle is that the weight reduction offers benefits to both the pilots and the airlines. Saving sixty pounds of paper (pilot + co-pilot) creates a significant savings not only in paper and printing costs but also in fuel because planes are that much lighter.

The reduction in injuries was also cited as a weight-saving benefit. The switch to the iPad is expected to reduce health care costs and absenteeism from shoulder and back injuries associated with hoisting heavy flight bags, said David Clark, pilot and manager of the connected aircraft program at American Airlines. “Cockpits are small, and lifting that thing up and over your seat causes damage, particularly when you consider a lot of pilots are over 40.”

Change in Workflow - In a point that will resonate with librarians, pilots do not have to go through the tedium of updating the manuals by swapping out old pages with new ones because updates are downloaded automatically. As someone who flies, I like the idea of my crew having timely updates in the cockpit.

The Apps - This electronic flight bag, thanks to the iPad, supports hundreds of general aviation apps that simplify preflight planning and assist with in-flight operations. The article cites that there are now more than 250 aviation apps for the iPad, and one called ForeFlight is among the top grossing apps listed on iTunes.

“The iPad apps can provide additional information and are often easier to use than avionics technologies installed in airplanes,” said Mark Erickson, a corporate pilot who flies a Gulfstream G450 and Falcon 2000 for a company based in St. Louis.

In a point not lost on publishers who have taken their products through a media migration: his motivation was to save on subscriptions to paper maps and charts, which had cost him $1,414 a year. He now gets the same maps and charts digitally delivered to his two iPads for $150 a year. This is a variation of the infamous ratio of trading print dollars for digital dimes. Mr. Brown concluded that “Anything that makes me more alert, responsible and allows me to stay more focused on actually flying the plane is a good thing”.

See the follow-on interview here on .