Upgrade above the clouds: Austrian Airlines equips pilots with tablets

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• Modernization boost in the cockpits of Austrian Airlines – Austria’s largest airline has used the Surface Pro 3 in flight operations since early November.
• Surface tablets are replacing the paper-based version of the electronic flight bag (EFB) – a collection of important flight documents weighing several kilograms that until now has accompanied pilots around the world.
• Fully rolled out, some 950 Windows 8.1-based Surface Pro 3 tablets simplify the work of pilots enormously. What is more, thanks to the completely paperless cockpit they make sure that the processes surrounding flight operations are more efficient, that time is saved, and that punctuality is improved.

Modernization boost in the cockpit
Austrian Airlines is currently putting into effect a project that will change the work of pilots in the cockpit dramatically and put flight operations on an entirely new footing. Equipping every pilot with a Surface Pro 3 tablet sees Austria’s largest airline boosting modernization and productivity enormously.

When it comes to improving flight operations and providing customers with an even better quality of service, an ever increasing number of airlines rely on innovations from Microsoft. We are very proud of the fact that the biggest carrier in Austria, Austrian Airlines, opted to use Surface Pro 3 and Windows 8.1 to modernize its operations. Prevailing as a fully-fledged tablet and work instrument in one, the Surface’s positioning on the market is also underscored by this move – regardless of whether it is on the ground or above the clouds,” says Alexander Linhart, head of the Windows Business Group at Microsoft Austria.

The dream of a paperless cockpit
Starting in the late 1990s with the arrival of the first laptops in the flight deck, the dream of a completely paperless cockpit is now actually becoming a reality thanks to the Surface tablets from Microsoft,” explains Dr. Philipp Haller, pilot at Austrian Airlines. As electronic flight bag administrator, Philipp Haller is also head of the current project and recounts: “In 1999, AUA was the first airline in Europe to place flight documentation at the disposal of its pilots in digital form – effectively as a forerunner of the modern electronic flight bags of today. Due to the numerous advantages that arise from the intensified use of digital instead of paper-based flight bags, we have developed flight operations over the last few years continuously. Having said that, it was not possible to replace the flight bag completely in the past. Thanks to the Surface tablet-based electronic flight bags, that is now different.”

Upgrade for pilots
The advantages of the electronic flight bag are perfectly obvious to Philipp Haller, who as a Boeing 777 pilot also works on long-haul routes: “We are now in a position to use the tablets as a ‘real’ electronic flight bag for the first time in flight operations. Unlike previous solutions, the tablet will therefore accompany the pilot constantly.” This starts with preparations – pilots use an existing Internet connection to load the latest flight information and documents (flight plans, weather information, as well as position, environmental, and system data, for example) onto the tablet. They then take it into the cockpit, where – for safety reasons – at least two Surface Pro 3 tablets per flight are fixed using special brackets. “Fixing them in this manner means that our pilots are now in a position to use the electronic flight bag installed on the tablet in all phases of the flight for the first time. In particular, that now applies to critical phases such as the takeoff, when landing, and in the event of turbulence, too.”

Upgrading the entire fleet
Austrian Airlines has opted for the implementation of an extensive Surface Pro 3 and Windows 8.1-based electronic flight bag. The high performance, the large screen, and the – in comparison – very low weight make the tablet from Microsoft an ideal work instrument for the flight crew. In the course of the project, Austrian has bought about 950 Surface Pro 3 tablets in total. The version chosen features 128 GB storage, an Intel i5 processor, and 4 GB RAM. The rollout of the Austrian fleet’s tablets and equipment started early November 2014. To achieve this, the cockpit of every Airbus A320, Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Dash 8 Q400, and Fokker aircraft will be gradually fitted with EFB brackets, meaning that every pilot – irrespective of the type of aircraft they fly – can use the Surface tablets and electronic flight bag installed on them at all times during flight operations in the future. Introduction of the new system is supported by Microsoft partners ACP and Danube IT Services.

Simplifying the work of pilots
Pilots work for 95% of their time offline. Following the switchover to the electronic flight bag, the flight crew always has all the information relevant to the flight available offline,” explains Philipp Haller. “The electronic flight bag on the Microsoft tablet allows us to synchronize a wide range of the latest data, information, and flight-related documentation prior to the flight, meaning it is then available offline at any time during the flight. The immediate availability of manuals, charts or checklists consisting of several thousand pages widens the ability to take action in the air enormously,” Philipp Haller summarizes the advantages from the perspective of a pilot.

Tradition in the air
Nonetheless, an element of tradition will remain in the future: “Despite every desire, freedom above the clouds is not completely limitless,” says the pilot, who has been flying for Austrian Airlines for more than 16 years. For even if the content of the previous paper-based flight bag is replaced by a tablet, this ultimately needs to be transported somehow, too. Philipp Haller believes there are also other reasons why flight bags will not disappear entirely from cockpits around the world: “The flight bag will continue to be very popular as a baggage item – for personal travel accessories, at least. And despite all else, there is one thing we must not forget: even if everything in the cockpit is now digital, the pilot license will continue to accompany pilots in paper form for some time.