Pilots Rely on iPads to Fly Planes, But What Happens When the App Fails

April 29, 2015 Last Updated: April 29, 2015

There was a time when all pilots carried over 35 pounds of paperwork on each flight. For some pilots, those days ended when their airlines have adopted iPad apps such as FliteDeck to carry their flight plans.

However, the use of the technology comes with risks. On Tuesday night dozens of American Airlines planes were grounded after the iPad app carrying the flight plans stopped working.

The paperwork American Airlines pilots used to carry on a flight next to an iPad carrying the App that replaced most of the flight plans. (American Airlines)
The paperwork American Airlines pilots used to carry on a flight next to an iPad carrying the App that replaced most of the flight plans. (American Airlines)

A spokesperson for the airline told the BBC that “In some cases, the flight had to return to the gate to access a Wi-Fi connection to fix the issue.”

Some passengers on the affected flights were told by the company that “Some flights are experiencing an issue with a software application on iPads.”

In 2013, American Airlines became the first major commercial carrier to deploy the iPads in cockpits. At the time the airline said that the adoption of the technology would have “a significant positive environmental and cost-savings impact.” American has since deployed over 8,000 iPads.

The airline estimates that by removing the kitbag carrying the paper flight plans it saves 400,000 gallons in fuel each year, which equals an estimated $1.2 million. The software used on the iPads is produced by Jeppesen, a unit of Boeing Digital Aviation.

The incidents comes just one week after the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report raising concerns about the increased use of internet connections in aircrafts. The agency says the connections put the planes at risk of being hacked and that it is reviewing rules for cybersecurity on all new aircrafts.

After American Airlines started using the iPads other airlines, such as United Airlines, have also adopted the technology.