Why Pilots Can Use iPads While They're Flying Your Plane And You Can't

Slowly but surely, Australian airlines have been replacing cumbersome paper-based processes with tablets and smartphones for staff.

Qantas last year began rolling out some 2000 iPads to Airbus and Boeing pilots to replace about 20kg of paper flight plans, manuals and charts.

Meanwhile, US-based Delta Air Lines this month armed 19,000 flight attendants with Nokia Lumia smartphones for selling food and beverages via a wifi network in flight.

An Qantas pilots keep their iPads switched on throughout the flight.

So why can’t passengers, during take-off and landing?

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority explains:

Passenger use of electronic devices is quite different. The airlines prohibit that as a means of reducing the risk of random electronic interference with aircraft systems.

Lots of different devices operating all over the aircraft at different times can produce unknown results.

The devices in the cockpit are known.

CASA does not dictate exactly which devices pilots should use but provides guidelines about screen size and performance capabilities.

A Qantas spokesman said the airline had worked closely with CASA in developing the iPad program, and received approval “specifically for the use of iPads in a particular configuration”.

Qantas pilots’ iPads are not connected to the internet throughout the flight.

Last month, ANU engineering doctoral candidate Hamza Bendemra wrote on The Conversation that even in airplane mode, personal electronic devices still emit some electromagnetic radiation that may interfere with aircraft systems.

The signals have been blamed for interfering with aircraft avionics display units and navigation systems, potentially distracting the crew at crucial times.

New-generation aircraft tend to be better shielded from electromagnetic interference, Bendemra wrote, but passengers don’t always know how old an aircraft is.

The US Federal Aviation Administration has been considering relaxing some of the rules that prohibit the use of electronic devices at certain times in-flight, and changes are likely to trickle through to Australia’s CASA as well.

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