The world of aviation seldom finds itself adopting technologies that were designed for mainstream consumer products. Be it the difficulty of integrating such technologies, the challenges involved in ensuring their robustness in a cockpit environment, or the fact that their use simply doesn’t translate well in the aircraft’s front office, aviation has usually trailed behind.
Then one day a jeans-clad Steve Jobs introduced the iPad and many things changed. To most, the iRevolution has meant increased connectivity and a world where even ovens are expected to be touch sensitive. Yet, most readers probably would not have predicted the extent to which the iPad has also taken the aviation world by storm. EFB-like apps now abound and general aviation and commercial pilots alike can enjoy some of the benefits of affordable and intuitive digital charts.
The Aviation Management Association estimates that 53% of AOPA members are iPad users. Doing the math, that translates into an astonishing 220,000 pilots. Furthermore, if one considers that the active pilot population in the US is close to the 600,000 mark and that these adoption rates were redacted 18 months after the introduction of the iPad, these figures look all the more impressive – and probably conservative. Finally, if one also considers that 35% of the active pilot population that is not a member of AOPA is also likely using iPads for flight purposes then we are looking at an “iPilot” population rivaling that of some cities.
While it’s important to acknowledge the significance that the iPad app has had on the pilot community, it’s equally important to understand that the apps that said pilots use differ substantially. In other words how do Cupertino’s products enhance the cockpit experience? I don’t intend to go over the minutiae of each function; however from a broad standpoint, we can classify the pilot apps into two categories:
- Chart Viewers, essentially PDF viewers that allow pilots not to carry tons of paper in the cockpit
- EFB-like apps, covering everything from geo-referenced maps, to weather/terrain/obstacles data
In the first case we are basically looking at a paper substitute in the cockpit. In the second case, we are talking about increased situational awareness.
Rumors are running rampant that an iPad with a smaller screen may be hitting store shelves soon. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the established ecosystem. On one hand, a smaller unit could well mean that we finally get something that more closely resembles the size of a kneeboard. On the other, readability will still be critical to the adoption of the new unit – will a smaller screen make it harder to read chart data?
Do you have any thoughts or experiences that you’d like to share? Go ahead and comment!