Monday, October 10, 2011

The Paperless Cockpit: Low Carbon Flight?

Given that unnecessary weight is the bane of practical aviation, will the ditching of heavy and bulky paper-based flight manuals in favor of much lighter digital PDA based devices result in a more eco-friendly flights by lowering fuel consumption?

By: Ringo Bones

A news story was aired on the BBC back in July 6, 2011 on a planned phase-out of bulky and heavy paper based pilot’s flight manuals in favor of much lighter “digital” flight manuals apps stored on personal digital assistant like devices – i.e. i-Pads – in order to lower fuel consumption during flights. But will this work? After all, being dependent on i-Pad and other supposedly lighter-than-paper tablet type computers could introduce its own host of problems in a contemporary commercial airline cockpit.

Ever since the very early days of aviation, weight reduction has always been part and parcel that makes powered long-duration manned flight possible. Early aircraft engineers had been heard of talking – albeit apocryphally – of selling their grandmothers into slavery just to lower a few pounds of airframe deadweight without sacrificing airworthiness. Nowadays, aerospace engineers aim for deadweight reduction in order to lower a typical commercial airline’s carbon footprint in a typical 18-hour long haul flight.

Back to the potential hosts problems that supposedly lighter-than-paper i-Pads and other tablet computers could introduce in a contemporary cockpit. To anyone who’s been a “frequent-flyer” since the 1980s, its been already standard operating procedure that the flight and cabin crew in a typical commercial airline flight had always been prohibiting us from using our Walkmans, mobile phones and other portable consumer electronic gadgets during “critical” portions of the flight. Citing reasons of electronic / electromagnetic interference on the vital cockpit avionics and the plane’s flight control systems. Could the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer’s use of a tablet computer / i-Pad instead of a non-electronic paper-based flight manual generate electronic interference that could wreak havoc on the vital cockpit avionics during critical portions of the flight?

And another thing, making sure that your “digital” tablet computer / i-Pad-based flight manuals have enough juice or battery power for the whole duration of a typical long-haul 18-hour flight is a Sisyphean task in itself. Charging your “digital” flight manuals on the same power source that powers the plane’s vital avionics is a sure recipe for unwanted electronic / electromagnetic interference; Electromagnetic compatibility review of digital flight manuals and avionics, anyone?

1 comment:

  1. Speaking of the "paperless cockpit" concept, a Boeing affiliated company called Jeppesen has made available their Jeppesen Mobile FliteDeck on the App Store. According to Jeppesen, the product is supposedly a paperless flight charting revolution for your personal i-Pad or Tablet. Any experience on using the product?