Why Pilots Can Use iPads and You Can't

Just as all hope was lost for flyers in the crusade to use gadgets during take-off and landing, American Airlines just got the Federal Aviation Administration's go-ahead to use iPads during all phases of flight. It seems unfair to passengers packing iPads, doesn't it?

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Just as all hope was lost for flyers in the crusade to use gadgets during take-off and landing, American Airlines pilots just got the Federal Aviation Association go-ahead to use iPads during all phases of flight. It seems unfair to passengers packing iPads, doesn't it? The people steering the ship get to do the exact thing we can't. That's how our commenter Seth Levi felt after reading about the double standard yesterday. "What's really insane is that pilots are now using iPads as flight manuals. So using an iPad *in the cockpit* doesn't screw up the computers inches away from it, but some how my iPad 100ft away will?" he said. And that was before this approval for iPads during takeoff and landing. But, the rules for people operating the planes are different than the ones for you and me. Here's why.

  • Safety. That was the F.A.A's official stance on the issue last year, when it mentioned a pilot program for the plane operators. We've reached out to them for a more current comment, but as of the writing of this they had yet to get back to us. Back then, they said that when it comes to "potential interference" two iPads up front was a lot different than "unlimited passenger use, which could involve dozens or even hundreds of devices at the same time," a spokesperson told The New York Times's resident iPad during takeoff crusader Nick Bilton. Though, this answer does not satisfy Bilton this time around: "So first it’s no iPads because of potential interference. Then two iPads are O.K. — but only two. Now we will have five or six iPads on airplanes?" he wrote.  
  • Bureaucracy. For approval, the FAA has to test each device on each type of plane, which will take a very long time, as we noted yesterday. This process is less arduous in this situation. The airline has already controlled for gadget type, giving Apple's iPad out to the pilots. And, this is just American Airlines we're talking about, so they've only been OK'd on the types of planes they fly. To make a ruling for all passengers, the FAA can't tell people their tablets are OK on certain planes and aren't on others; it has to approve all of them for every plane. Now, the FAA has started getting things moving with tests. But, as we noted yesterday, those aren't going anywhere really. The agency has also indicated that it would consider changing the rules altogether, noting "an aviation rulemaking committee will be formally established this fall and will meet for six months." But, as Bilton explains, these meetings will "easily take over a year to conclude." So, let's not get our hopes up.
  • Money. The American Airlines press release about the approval emphasizes what this move will do for the industry as a whole, as such: "Program Critical Part of American's Efforts to Improve Operational Efficiency for Pilots, Reduce Carbon Footprint" reads the subhead. The FAA has two incentives for approving this move: Money and the environment. What does letting passengers use iPads do? Keep that game of Fruit Ninja from being interrupted? 

So for now, and the near future, get used to the double-standard.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.