A new app aviation mapping app for the iPad has just been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The app allows charter company Executive Jet Management to use the iPad for electronic mapping within the cockpit on the company’s commercial flights.
By allowing the use of the iPad, the FAA is acknowledging the potential for tablets to become commonplace as an avionics instrument.
The federal authorization comes after months of testing the iPad and Mobile TC, the map app developed by aviation chartmaker Jeppesen.
The testing certainly was rigorous, as the iPad was dropped over 51,000 feet in a rapid-decompression simulation to see if it can stand up to other critical navigation equipment. The device was also tested by 55 pilots during 250 flights.
But if the iPad is being used for critical navigation, what happens if the hardware or software crashes during flight?
Jeff Buhl, Jeppesen's product manager for the Mobile TC app, says the Apple iOS operating system and the app proved "extremely stable" during testing. In the "unlikely" event of an app crash, it takes but a moment to get them running again.
"The recovery time for an application crashing or the OS crashing is extremely rapid," as the app is ready to go "in 4-6 seconds from re-launch to previous state."
Nevertheless, the app did not crash even once during testing.
The FAA notes that each individual operator is responsible for figuring out how to deal with a software or system crash. That means the pilot should know how to restart the iPad and the app itself. And of course, there will be a backup unit in the cockpit.
Agency spokesman Les Dorr says the iPad went through the same testing procedures as any other type of aviation equipment. He explains, "As far as the iPad is concerned, we do that on a case-by-case basis when an airline applies to be able to use it."
The FAA is already seeing more requests to use the iPad in commercial airlines.
Alaska Airlines, for example, began testing the iPad back in November and there are about 100 pilots currently evaluating the device, according to spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey.
"It's replaced about 25 pounds of manuals and charts," she added.
The authorization of the app and the iPad is important primarily because it opens the door for widespread use of tablets as well as more approved app further down the pipeline.
"We'll be able to reuse a lot of the documentation and the lessons learned working with Executive Jet Management to help our commercial customers as they now begin to pursue FAA authorization."
The features available on the iPad and the app include charts for visual flight rules and for instrument flight rules. In the future, Jeppesen hopes to include GPS capabilities along with other cool features to replace standard aviation tools.