I asked Paul Saunders, operations director at Conduce to offer his take on the future of iPads in the aviation industry. Paul has spent the past six months working with airlines and MROs helping them to define their mobile strategies and develop bespoke iOS software. Here's what he has to say:
Mark Zuckerberg once said that 5 years is an infinity in technology terms. If there is one thing that I have learned about working with iPads in the aviation sector, it’s this: Two weeks alone is a long enough time in aviation technology to be out of date on a given subject. At the last two aviation technology conferences that I have spoken at, I have been approached by delegates afterwards with some vital snippet of information which has literally just occurred in the last few weeks which, if had I known half an hour sooner would have changed the tone of my presentation. Just keeping up with latest events in order to talk and write and consult about the use of iPads in aviation is becoming a full time job in itself, never mind designing and developing software for iPads which is my actual day job.
In the summer of 2011, you could hardly browse an aviation or technology blog without one airline or other announcing that they were rolling out iPads to their pilots or cabin crew. Back then I advised clients and conference delegates on caution as the aviation software development community were not quite up to speed with the unprecedented demand. I would use the theory of the diffusion of technology and draw Hype Cycle graphs to explain that although the expectation for iPads in aviation was very high, there would be some problems on the way towards using them in a cost effective manner. I found that software vendors were often too lean, too rigid, or too unsure about the tablet market to have created a version of their software specifically for iPads. The aviation industry turned to independent developers, or tooled up to develop apps of their own.
Meanwhile, a number of farsighted early adopters in the software vendor community started picking individual use cases and developing apps for iPad and Android. By the start of December, vendors like Bluebox, Vistair, Bytron, Arconics, Ultramain, GaelQuality and others had all brought their apps to market and the airlines were starting the rollout of their own apps for testing and approval. At the same time the big guys like Jeppesen and LIDO were repositioning their apps from mere proof of concepts to mature, fully featured software products. Nowadays you don’t see so many announcements of airlines adopting iPads in the news. This isn’t because it isn’t happening anymore. It is simply because it is no longer newsworthy.
On the regulatory side, the iPad has been approved as a Class1 eFB device by the FAA for some time now. As a solid state device, decompression and radiation resilience tests were straight forward box ticking exercises for the authorities. However Apple’s focus on the consumer market has lead them to treat enterprise users as second class citizens. Most IT regimes have struggled to get their heads round deploying iPads in a secure manner that stands up to their rigorous enterprise security and human factor policies whilst still maintaining device form factors in a non-jail broken state. It is the iPad’s desirable consumer-targeted properties that have resulting in EASA being slightly more cautious regarding a blanket approval. At the time of writing (to the best of my knowledge) EASA has not yet given certification to the iPad as an approved eFB. However this has not stopped individual airlines gaining approval from their NAA to use the iPad as an eFB. In fact one innovative cargo operator from Sweden, Amapola has had the iPad approved as a Class2 device by the Swedish CAA. I think this is a world first although I do know of at least one operator in Asia who was also working on similar solution. I understand that this approval covers operator specific procedures and modifications to their aircraft – so don’t expect to be offered the iPad as a cheap alternative to embedded Class3 systems from aircraft OEMs with new aircraft just yet.
So what do we expect to see for the iPad in aviation in 2012? Certainly airlines who have announced iPad initiatives in 2011 are moving from testing and approval stage to live usage right now. We are also going to see iPad usage spread from the flight deck to cabin crew with data acquisition and passenger manifest apps becoming widely available. I expect engineering to get in on the act too, with several line engineering departments and MROs already running limited trials for specific use cases. Technical publications, asynchronous data acquisition and business intelligence apps being obvious places to start. There are some excellent ruggedized cases for iPad on the market and this has helped to convince technology buyers that they are not necessarily going to be replacing iPads for clumsy mechanics every five minutes. Some MROs and aftermarket suppliers are even trialling business to business apps where products and services can be requested and tracked to delivery point via an app. 2012 is also going to see the release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system which is certainly going to see a major shake down of the mobile operating system market and could have wide implications for enterprise and aviation.
I would agree with Zuckerberg that 5 years certainly is an unfathomable amount of time to consider in technology terms. I’m personally struggling to accurately predict the impact of iPads and other tablets on aviation further than 5 months at the moment, let alone 5 years.
About the author:
Paul Saunders works for Conduce, a company based in the UK who specialises in iPad development and mobile strategy consultancy for the aviation industry. Paul has spent most of the past six months working with airlines, maintenance providers and software vendors on helping define their strategies as well as designing and developing bespoke iOS software. Paul regularly writes and presents at aviation technology conferences about the use of iPads in aviation. You can read Paul’s company blog at http://blog.conduce.net and see some of Paul’s presentations at http://www.slideshare.net/thesaundi