Delta Replacing Pilots' iPads With Surface 2 Tablets, And Pilots Reportedly Aren't Thrilled


Delta Airlines pilots have been using iPads in place of bulky navigational charts and flight manuals, but through a new deal with Microsoft, they're going to be using Surface tablets instead.

Later this year, Delta says it'll start giving its 11,000 pilots Surface 2 tablets as replacements for their electronic flight bags, or EFBs, which typically contain maps, charts, reference documents and checklists and can weigh close to 40 pounds. Delta says all its pilots will be using Surface 2 tablets by the end of next year.

There's just one problem: Delta pilots have been using iPads instead of EFBs since 2011, when the Federal Aviation Administration approved the devices for use in cockpits. Since then, many other U.S. airlines have started using iPads in place of EFBs.

Apparently, Delta's pilots are none too pleased about having to switch to Surface 2 tablets.

"We fought hard for iPad," one Delta pilot told AppleInsider, adding that Delta's IT department has a history of being "in bed" with Microsoft.

[Related: Microsoft Surface 2: Faster Performance, Better Battery Life, More Apps]

So, what looks like an encouraging win for Microsoft will no doubt be viewed by skeptics as an attempt to prop up its mobile device business with smoke and mirrors. Microsoft has already paid hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to Nokia, and it also has been dangling the subsidy carrot to get developers building Windows Phone apps.

In a joint press release with Microsoft, Delta said getting rid of the extra weight from EFBs will save about 1.2 million gallons of fuel per year, which translates into $13 million in costs savings.

Delta also claims using tablets instead of EFBs will also cut its carbon emissions by 26 million pounds and reduce annual paper consumption by 7.5 million sheets, which amounts to 900 trees a year.

Using tablets instead of EFBs has other benefits, like eliminating cockpit clutter and making it easier for pilots to get information, according to Microsoft. Using a touch screen interface is also easier than fossicking through an EFB, and Microsoft said this will let pilots "spend more time focusing on flying the aircraft."

Surface 2 tablets, which will hit store shelves Oct. 22, haven't yet received FAA approval, but Delta said it expects that to happen "next year."

Last month, Delta's 19,000 flight attendants started using the Nokia Lumia 820, a Windows Phone 8 device, to process in-flight purchases, frequent flier upgrades and other tasks.

Under this deal, which includes participation from Avanade and AT&T, the devices run Microsoft Dynamics for Retail software.

Since Microsoft partners can't sell Surface tablets, it's tough to find ones with views on how the Delta deal could help boost its enterprise credibility. One partner told CRN the Delta deal isn't going to change his views about Surface in the enterprise.

"The market has made it clear that Microsoft does not know how to listen to what people want and then innovate solutions that meet the customers' needs," the partner said in an email. "Until they figure out that basic tenet of sales, they are fighting a losing battle with Surface."

PUBLISHED OCT. 1, 2013