It’s great that iPads can help pilots replace heavy paper flight plans and logbooks, but digitizing airplane maintenance could arguably be even more important. Apple and United announced today that the latter is now doable, after United received the first and only FAA approval to complete maintenance sign-off via iPads.
If you’ve boarded a flight before, you might have noticed technicians on the ground checking around the plane for anything that could be a problem (and you silently thank them for it).
United says that using iPads expedites the document release process by 10 minutes
At the end of their process, a lead technician would need to sign off on a physical Maintenance Release Document (MRD) that confirms the completion of required service, inspections, and maintenance before the plane can depart. If there are any issues, a tech would have to go back to their base station to communicate with the crew and pilot.
Now, United can do all of that, including communications, on an iPad. “We were the first airline to receive approval from the FAA to digitize the MRD because we use Touch ID,” said United executive VP and chief customer officer Linda Jojo in a new marketing video.
Mansur Zia, a United lead line technician, is shown in the video creating an oil service ticket and using Touch ID to sign off on the plane, all on the airline’s internal United Tech app for iPad. “It expedites the MRD process by 10 minutes — that saves our customers 13 million minutes per year,” Zia said. The app is said to reduce quick-turn tech operation delays by 20 percent and deferred maintenance items by 30 percent. And hopefully, all that means you’ll get going even sooner.
United started using iPads in the cockpit in 2011, and since then, pilots have received upgraded iPad Pro units. They can use them to gather accelerometer data and generate turbulence maps that help create safer alternate routes. “Over a decade ago, we began investing in iPads, and since then, we’ve deployed over 120,000 Apple devices,” said Jojo. The distributed devices include iPhones and iPads that go to United employees, enabling quick crew communications with an internal EasyChat app, and attendants can do things like arrange meal preorders for passengers with the MyFlight app. According to United representative Amy Fisher, the apps have been in use since 2019 and 2018, respectively.
Some other pioneering iPad-touting airlines include Alaska Airlines, which in 2011 used GoodReader and a bunch of PDFs, and also American Airlines. It’s not always smooth sailing, though, as American Airlines once had flights grounded in 2015 due to an app bug.