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American Airlines Pilots Drop Flight Bags For iPads

Airline expects to save $1.2 million on fuel annually by swapping 35-pound bags of manuals and directories for lightweight Apple iPads.

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American Airlines announced Monday that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved the use of Apple's iPad in its cockpits during flights.

It's the latest move toward overturning long-term bans on the use of portable electronic devices during flights. In late August, for example, the FAA announced plans to study whether consumer electronics are safe for use on planes.

As a result of the FAA's approval, American Airlines pilots will use iPads loaded with digital versions of reference materials, replacing 35-pound bags of materials that currently must be lugged onto planes. American Airlines projects that, due to the decreased weight, these "electronic flight bags" will save the airline $1.2 million in annual spending on fuel.

In addition to saving costs, the iPad flight bags may also help pilots and co-pilots more easily do their jobs, American Airlines CIO Maya Leibman said in a statement. "We're focused on building a new American where technology and innovation are fundamental to the company's return to industry leadership and exceptional customer service," she said. "The electronic flight bag program is just one example of the progress we're making to provide the tools our employees need to deliver operational improvements and leading customer experience."

[ American isn't the only organization putting pilot materials on iPads. See Air Force Unit Chooses iPad For Flight Manuals. ]

While FAA has approved the use of iPads in the cockpit, American doesn't anticipate stopping there. The company is piloting a program where flight attendants use tablets that provide them with more information about passengers on the flight, including their individual travel needs. In a press release, American said it will release more details on that program over the coming months.

The cockpit iPad program will begin in September on American's fleet of Boeing 777 planes, but American says it hopes FAA approves the tablet's use across the airline's entire fleet by the end of the year, as Boeing will no longer distribute paper flight bags beginning in January 2013.

American isn't the only airline experimenting with iOS devices and apps. Delta Air Lines recently began distributing iPads to three of its airport hubs to keep travelers connected while they were waiting for their flights; Singapore Airlines and Qantas Airways units are renting iPads to customers on overseas flights; and many airlines have launched iOS apps. American Airlines and Delta will also reportedly support a new feature called Passbook that lets consumers store digital versions of, among other things, airline boarding passes on their iOS devices.

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