Mobile computers such as tablets are “taking off” as a way to greatly increase efficiency in aviation, from the cockpit to the ground crew.
Several major commercial airlines have moved toward paperless cockpits by replacing their flight bags – document bags full of charts, licenses, manuals, checklists and other paperwork, which can weigh up to 40 pounds or more – with tablet computers. Elsewhere in the plane, flight attendants are increasingly using mobile technology for customer service, allowing them to drive onboard sales, or to access passenger data such as itineraries, seat assignments, loyalty program information and requests for special services.
Tablets have been used by aviation maintenance personnel for years, but they’re becoming increasingly critical.
The military also has completed tests to introduce tablet-based electronic flight bags for use by Air Force pilots. This move is expected to save at least $5 million in tax dollars annually, according to reports.
What airline passengers may not realize is that mobile technology is playing an increasingly important role outside of the plane too. I recently spoke at the Aviation Week MRO Americas 2013 conference on the impact of mobile technologies in aviation line maintenance and ground operations – looking at how evolving technology is leading to new developments in day-to-day operations in this critical sector.
Tablets have been used by aviation maintenance personnel for years, but they’re becoming increasingly critical. Recently we’ve seen the introduction of data-enabled commercial aircraft, which provide for secure, high-speed integration of aircraft IT networks with ground systems. New aircraft from Boeing and Airbus include connections to enable the electronic transmission of technical data related to aircraft operations from the plane to ground systems. With these new capabilities now being built into airplanes, maintenance crews can more easily access onboard maintenance data, initiate tests and review maintenance documents. This increases the need for ground professionals to be equipped and ready to understand and utilize large volumes of aircraft data.
Similarly, in the military, maintenance technicians have long used mobile computers to assist in tackling the challenge of maintaining aircraft, which must be in top form and ready for deployment at all times. Countless items must constantly be inspected and repaired, parts must be ordered and meticulous service records must be filed. In the case of military aircraft, maintenance crews are assigned to specific aircraft and must transfer on a moment’s notice wherever the aircraft are deployed, taking their e-tools with them.
Tablets that are rugged, lightweight and ultra-mobile, and equipped with wireless capabilities and custom software, are now are a necessity for this job. In the past, earlier model e-tools had to be physically connected to the planes before data could be downloaded and analyzed, and technicians had to manually order replacement parts from catalogs. Now, avionics data is downloaded and shared wirelessly between the aircraft, maintenance crew and the air traffic control center before the aircraft reaches the hangar. This eliminates the need to physically connect to systems on the ground, allowing diagnostics to begin sooner. Thanks to the use of rugged technology, technicians and mechanics can climb inside the aircraft when technical issues are identified to conduct visual inspections without worrying about damage to their computers from drops, leaks, grease and particulates.
Line maintenance and ground operations are a critical part of aviation, and mobile technology is helping to revolutionize this sector just as it has in the cockpit. The next time your flight lands safely – whether you’re in the Armed Forces or just on a business trip – don’t forget the role mobile computers played in getting you there.
Image credit: Air Combat Command/Flickr