App used by pilots as ‘electronic kit bag’ iPad crashes, leaving American Airlines planes unable to take off

Many American Airlines flights were forced to be delayed on Tuesday night after the iPad app used by the pilots crashed.

The cockpit iPads introduced in 2013 are used as an “electronic flight bag”, instead of the 16kg (35lb) of paper manuals that pilots are usually required to carry on flights. They are used to share information such as flight plans throughout the airline’s fleet.

However, the app that took the place of the flight bag crashed on Tuesday. According to passenger reports, it affected multiple planes spread throughout the entire fleet making the pilots unable to take off. “The pilot came on and said that his first mate’s iPad powered down unexpectedly, and his had too, and that the entire 737 fleet on American had experienced the same behavior,” one passenger told business news site, Quartz. “It seemed unprecedented and very unfamiliar to the pilots.”

Confirming the issue, an American Airlines spokesperson told the Verge: “Some flights are experiencing an issue with a software application on pilot iPads … In some cases, the flight has had to return to the gate to access a Wi-Fi connection to fix the issue. We apologise for the inconvenience to our customers.”

“We are working to have them on the way to their destination as soon as possible.”

Another spokesperson said that the issue affected “a few dozen flights” across the airline.

At the time of launch of the electronic flight bags, American Airlines proudly detailed the environmental and cost-savings effect of the change. David Campbell, company’s head of safety and operations performance had said “Removing the kitbag from all of our planes saves a minimum of 400,000 gallons and $1.2 million of fuel annually based on current fuel prices.”

“Additionally, each of the more than 8,000 iPads we have deployed to date replaces more than 3,000 pages of paper previously carried by every active pilot and instructor. Altogether, 24 million pages of paper documents have been eliminated.”

The malfunction in the electronic flight bags comes in the same month that a US watchdog had cautioned of the chances of in-flight Wi-Fi being used to hack into the avionics system of a plane. The Government Accountability Office warned that: “Modern aircraft are increasingly connected to the internet. This interconnectedness can potentially provide unauthorized remote access to aircraft avionics systems.”

A week later, Chris Roberts, a security researcher was forbidden from a United Airlines flight after he tweeted about trying to hack the passenger oxygen controls on his flight. He was made to find another flight to San Francisco following the imprudent tweet and subsequently banned from all United Airlines flights.

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