Pilots Replace Paper Manuals with iPads (Even During Takeoff)

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Another day, another “look who’s using the iPad now!” story.

According to the New York Times, airplane pilots are the latest to join the tablet craze. American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Executive Jet Management have all allowed pilots to store reference manuals — a collection of documents that weighs 40 pounds on paper — on their iPads.

(PHOTOS: The Unveiling of Apple’s iPad Tablet)

Now, the obvious angle to pursue here is how iPads and tablets in general are helping to usher in the decline of paper. Indeed, we’ve heard of NFL coaches thinking of replacing their printed playbooks with iPads, and South Korea planning to convert all textbooks to digital by 2015.

But what I really want to talk about is this nugget, buried in the Times‘ story:

“Moreover, the F.A.A. said pilots at the two airlines would not have to shut off and store their iPads during taxiing, takeoff and landing because they had demonstrated that the devices would not impair the functioning of onboard electronics.”

That’s right. Pilots get a pass to a rule that has long vexed techies, requiring that portable electronics are put away while the plane takes off and lands.

And the government has admitted that playing with a tablet during takeoff won’t send the plane down in flames. (In fairness, Alaska Airlines makes its pilots put away their iPads like everyone else.)

Will this exception for pilots lead to a policy change for the rest of us? In other words, will airlines finally stop discriminating against e-books and digital magazines in favor of SkyMall?

I doubt it. Flight attendants will not want to be in the position of deciding which gadgets are okay for takeoff and which gadgets must be safely stored underneath the seat back in front of you, with your tray table stowed and your seat in its locked, upright–er, sorry.

Unless the FAA decides that computers, tablets, phones, iPods and PSPs are okay for everyone to use during takeoff and landing (unlikely), it’s much easier to enforce a blanket “no electronics” rule for 15 minutes on either end of the flight. During this time, the FAA says, “any potential interference could be more of a safety hazard as the cockpit crew focuses on critical arrival and departure duties.”

And that’s okay. A little time to unplug never hurt anyone. But word better not get out that pilots are playing Angry Birds while touching down.

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