United Airlines

Cleared for takeoff with iPad.

Countless business travelers rely on iPad as an essential flight companion. But at United Airlines, iPad isn’t just for passengers. Following extensive testing and FAA approval, iPad recently became standard equipment on the flight deck, providing pilots with one-touch access to charts, maps, and other crucial navigation tools that help keep United flights on track and on time.

“United has always been a technology leader in the airline business,” says Pete McDonald, Chief Operations Officer of United Airlines. “We’ve always had the most advanced aircraft, and our flight planning systems have always been the most efficient. iPad gives our pilots access to more accurate information more quickly. It’s the best, most comprehensive technology that not only United, but the FAA has approved and supported.”

Featherweight flight charts

In a business where extra weight translates directly into extra costs, choosing iPad means fewer pounds on every route United flies—not to mention less baggage for United pilots to lug through the airport.

“A pilot’s flight bag weighs about 45 pounds,” says Captain David Sambrano, who has flown United planes for 22 years. “With iPad, we get rid of that big 45-pound bag. Being able to take all those books and charts and bring it down to about a pound and a half is incredible.”

Eliminating all that paper translates into serious savings, says Captain Joe Burns, Managing Director of Technology and Flight Test, another 20-year United veteran. “With iPad we’re able to save 16 million sheets of paper a year. Just removing the weight of that paper works out to 326,000 gallons of fuel saved per year.”

But replacing traditional flight charts with electronic documents on iPad does more than merely lighten the load. It also helps United pilots pinpoint essential flight information the moment they need it.

“In the past we’d have to pull a binder out, find the airport and the approach code, pull the paper out, clip it onto a chart holder somewhere, then enter that data into the flight control computer on the aircraft,” Burns recalls. “We view iPad as a big safety and time saver.”

“The iPad display allows us to see the chart very clearly,” Sambrano adds, “and it’s readable in different types of lighting, which is extremely important. And you can get to that particular chart or that particular piece of information so quickly.”

In-air Apps

United Airlines is no stranger to mobile tools that ease the way for passengers, from mobile-friendly booking and travel management tools to boarding passes that can be scanned directly from an iPhone or iPad display. Bringing iPad into the cockpit signals a new phase in the airline’s commitment to technology that improves both efficiency and service.

“United flies to 61 countries on six continents,” Sambrano says, “and no matter where I am in the world, I have all that flight planning information at my fingertips on iPad. Having the best technology allows you to make the best decisions to fly efficiently and arrive safely. If you have an accurate display like iPad on board, you’re able to plan a better route.”

The airline’s in-house development team has created several custom applications that help pilots quickly locate flight information on iPad. For example, the Content Locker app automatically pushes the latest flight data to each iPad, so pilots don’t have to spend time searching for and uploading the correct materials before each flight. They also have access to the Jeppesen Mobile Flight Deck application, which displays approach charts and en route chart data on iPad.

“Other applications include our flight operations manual, aircraft flight manual, and worldwide operations manual, which encompasses all the charts and approach plates we routinely use,” says Burns.

iPad also supports United’s stringent security requirements with both built-in security settings and compatibility with third-party Mobile Device Management (MDM) systems. “Security is paramount to United Airlines,” Burns notes. “We’re very confident that both the data and the device itself will stay secure throughout our operation.”

Smooth flying with iPad

With iPad and custom apps onboard, United is ready to launch a new era of flexible, compact resources for its flight staff. “iPad is a breakthrough from a technology and efficiency standpoint,” says McDonald. “I’m very proud that we’ve been able to put something as sophisticated and efficient as iPad in the hands of our pilots.”

The pilots couldn’t agree more. “With iPad we have a device that’s almost custom-built for our application,” Burns says. “One that’s lightweight, runs on battery power for a long time, is easy to program, and give us the information we need at the moment we need it.”

Most importantly, iPad helps the airline do what it does best: get people to their destinations safely and on schedule.

“One of the greatest things about being a pilot is being able to connect people,” says Sambrano. “We’re able to bring businesses and families together across the globe, and we’re able to bring our soldiers back home to their families. iPad helps us do this-and in my opinion, there’s no better job.”

Company Snapshot

  • World’s leading airline
  • More than 700 aircraft
  • 376 destinations and 5,700 departures per day
  • More than 85,000 employees, including 11,000 pilots
  • Based in Chicago, Illinois
  • www.united.com

“With iPad we have a device that’s almost custom-built for our application. One that’s lightweight, runs on battery power for a long time, is easy to program, and give us the information we need at the moment we need it.”

Captain Joe Burns, Managing Director of Technology and Flight Test,
United Airlines

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