Qantas deploys 2,200 iPads to pilots


news Pilots on the nation’s biggest airline Qantas will shortly starting using iPads to access the wide range of operational information they need to do their job instead of printed paper, under a partnership announced today between the airline and telco partner Telstra.

In a statement this morning, Telstra said that Qantas currently prints 18,000 pages of paper for flight operations every day. The full introduction of iPads for pilots on the flight deck will see this reduced to just 3,000 pages. The weight of the paper flight library carried on board will drop by 20 kilograms.

“Ultimately, more than 2,200 64GB iPads will be distributed to all domestic and international Qantas pilots on all fleet types,” Telstra wrote. “Beginning with Qantas’ Boeing 737 fleet, pilots will be able to access a wide range of operational information via iPads rather than using bulky paper documents – including charts, flight plans, manuals and forms.”

The telco said the iPads would be used to keep pilots up-to-date with critical flight data and each one would be equipped with two native apps that had been developed for cockpit use – one for charts by Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen and one by Qantas itself for all other necessary information. Telstra will integrate the iPads as part of its broader relationship with Qantas.

Additionally, on the ground in Australia, Telstra will connect pilots using its NextG network, while international on-ground connectivity will draw on Telstra’s global Wi-Fi partner network. The airline hopes to begin introducing iPads for pilots by September 2012, subject to regulatory approval, with implementation expected to take three to four weeks per fleet type with a transition period when certain paperwork is still carried on board, as pilots familiarise themselves with the new systems.

Qantas Technical Pilot, Captain Alex Passerini, said the iPad initiative was in keeping with Qantas’ history of innovation and commitment to new technology. “Qantas has always strived to lead the way in flight operations technology, be it our pioneering of the Future Air Navigation System in the 1990s or our work with on-board satellite navigation today,” he said. “The revolutionary capabilities of iPad technology, combined with the powerful customized apps, give our pilots the ability to replace cumbersome hard copies – saving time, resources and costs.

“This initiative is a response to strong demand from our pilots for a simpler, more efficient system, and follows extensive testing and development work, including close consultation with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).” The news comes as organisations around Australia are increasingly dumping paper as a mechanism for transporting and viewing sensitive documents.

In July 2011, the Queensland Government revealed plans to become the first government in Australia to dump the traditional cabinet briefing bags full of paper documents and issue all of its ministers with iPads instead, for electronic access to the same information. Westpac’s executive team is one of many private sector corporations to have done the same.

This sounds like a logical step for Qantas, although one does hope that there is a consistent policy around charging the iPads and making sure they have enough battery life for those long voyages. It could end up being a bit tricky if the airplans runs into turbulence and loses power, if the iPads are not charged on an ongoing basis and the pilots need to refer to important operational documents. One also wonders whether Qantas will mandate that the pilot iPads be switched off for landing/takingoff, as the airline continues to require with passenger devices.

Image credit: Star Trek: The Next Generation


  1. Just FYI Renai- It is currently illegal for any device in the cockpit to be on during takeoff/landing. Any pilot that has their phone/tablet/laptop on during this time should be SEVERELY disciplined. It happened a few months ago, but the Captain did it accidentally. Even so he shouldn’t have picked it up as he did.,mobile-phone-alerts-distract-jetstar-cockpit.aspx

    I have a very good friend who is a First Officer in REx Airlines. He’s been advocating this iPad paperwork for 3 or 4 years, since he’s been employed by REx. He’ll be VERY happy this is approved at QANTAS. He’s sick of carrying around 9.5Kg of paper for every flight!

  2. Surely they’ll have to turn these devices off. In fact, one wonders why they’re not just going with an e-reader rather than a tablet if all it’s to be used for is storing manuals.

    Good Star Trek image by the way, prior art proof that Apple didn’t invent the tablet shape.

    • Only during takeoff and landing Stephen. They must be either off or on silent and out of sight at the very least, though that’s frowned upon.

      And an e-reader cannot easily:

      1- display full flight plans, weather maps and other graphical data

      2- Allow ease of input for weight, fuel, cargo and other calculations. It’s much MUCH easier on a tablet, especially if you carry a Bluetooth keyboard with you.

      The pilots I know are over the moon about the sheer ease of use of these during checks (only when not flying the aircraft) and calculations and having between 9 and 15 kg of paper replaced by a 650g tablet.

  3. Actually, CASA have allowed them to fly with the iPads on during takeoff and landing (see below). I imagine this is not much different to the Boeing Electronic Flight Bags on newer Boeing aircraft to replace the kilograms of manuals. Most of the Airservices Australia publications are already on the iPad (the OzRunways App for example) and it seems Boeing will be producing Jeppesen charts as well.

    Qantas has worked with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority on a phased implementation plan that would leave contingency paper manuals on the aircraft while the reliability of the platform is checked….Electromagnetic tests have also been conducted to ensure that the devices do not interfere with aircraft systems during the critical landing and take-off phases of flight. But [Qantas technical pilot] Mr Passerini warned this did not mean passengers could now turn on their iPads during critical flight phases.

    “The reality is we’ve tested a very specific configuration — new iPads, up to four of them, operating in this specific configuration,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are so many different configurations and devices in the cabin it would be virtually impossible for us to test every conceivable configuration.”

  4. So I can’t have a phone on in airplane mode, but they can use iPads? Hope they don’t have to do a hard reset mid flight.

    Sometimes you don’t need or want tech for a job. Sometimes it pays to be functional instead of “cool” for PR purposes.

    • Yep. Same way Police can speed if the need arises and we can’t. Law is the law. Mainly it’s that way today to ensure people don’t have more distraction than necessary during the emergency routine. And with phones so that, in small planes particularly, the RF interference doesn’t come across pilot headsets during communications.

      iPads for Pilots are EMINENTLY useful. Apart from anything, they save 30kg of weight between the pilot and copilot of paperwork. And allow interactive weather maps.

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