Washington: Apple's iPad has won approval from US regulators to display navigational charts for some charter pilots, a step that may see the end of paper maps in the cockpit.
With the Federal Aviation Administration endorsing iPads in a test project at Executive Jet Management, a unit of Warren Buffett's NetJets, the way is open for others to seek authorisation for, said Les Dorr, an agency spokesman.
IPad use by professional pilots would support Apple's goal of winning more business buyers. The company's total corporate sales may rise 51 per cent to $11.3 billion (Dh41.50b) in 2011, said Brian Marshall, a Gleacher and Co analyst in San Francisco. Revenue was $76.3 billion last year.
"This is mission-critical computing," said Marshall, who has a "buy" rating on Apple. "For them to win this type of approval speaks volumes about the level of sophistication of what can be accomplished with the iPad."
Charts showing data such as airports and radio frequencies for a state or region have been staples of US flying since the 1930s.
But so-called electronic flight bags, computers configured for aviation use, began winning FAA approval for use at airlines in the last decade, superseding paper charts. A unit from Milwaukee-based Astronautics Corporation of America weighs 8.2 kilograms, 12 times as much as the iPad.
Apple's tablet wasn't cleared as a navigation device in a professional cockpit until FAA's February 1 approval to Executive Jet.
While the decision only covers Executive Jet, commercial carriers now have a citable case for iPad use, according to Jeppesen, the Boeing map and accessory business that designed the application used.
Pilots at Alaska Air Group's Alaska Airlines, which uses only paper charts in its 116 aircraft, are testing iPads for some functions, said Marianne Lindsey, a spokeswoman. AMR's American Airlines and American Eagle rely on paper charts in its 900-plane fleet, said Ed Martelle, a spokesman.
Delta Air Lines, the world's second-largest carrier, is still paper driven, according to Gina Laughlin, a spokeswoman. Delta is pursuing approval to test iPads and other tablet devices next quarter, Laughlin added.
"Many air carriers have been using electronic flight bags for years, but they've been carrying the paper with them as well," said Alison Duquette, an FAA spokeswoman.
The iPad's touch-screen and illumination display could be an advantage over folded paper in finding information such as an emergency-landing site, said John Cox, a former US Airways pilot who is now chief executive officer of consultant Safety Operating Systems LLC in Washington. "It's easier to sort through the charts that you need."