Microsoft Surface 2 tablets take to the skies at Delta Air Lines

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US carrier Delta Air Lines has announced plans to equip its 11,000 pilots with ‘electronic flight bags’ using Microsoft’s Surface 2 tablet, starting later this year. By the end of 2014, say airline executives, all Delta cockpits will be paperless.

According to Mike Wysocki, Delta’s director of flight operations technical and operational support, “the innovative handheld tablet puts in the hands of our talented group of aviators the right tools to do their job and do it well as they fly more than 160 million passengers safely every year.”

Writing in a guest blog post for the official Microsoft blog, Wysocki predicts that, by providing “documents, charts, navigational aids, checklists and other key reference materials” previously kept in heavy flight bags (weighing up to 38 pounds each, apparently), the airline expects to eliminate the use of 7.5 million sheets of paper annually. More importantly, the resulting weight reduction will reduce carbon emissions, “by 26 million pounds on 1.2 million fewer gallons of fuel.”

The news comes close on the heels of this week’s announcement that the US Department of Transportation has approved a joint venture between Delta and Virgin Atlantic, which will see the two airlines cooperate on a schedule of flights between London Heathrow and New York JFK, commencing March 2014.

What’s interesting is that Delta has chosen the Surface 2, the ARM-powered version running Windows RT, rather than the more powerful Surface Pro 2. That will be seen as good news in Redmond: in July, Microsoft took a $900 million charge on unsold inventory of its original Surface tablet and industry estimates suggest that the Surface Pro has proved far more popular, accounting for almost all sales of the company’s tablets. This deal helps bolster Microsoft’s case for positioning the Surface Pro as a laptop replacement and the simpler, ARM-powered Surface as a ‘tablet for business’.

According to Microsoft, Delta plans to install on its electronic flight bags (EFBs) the FliteDeck Pro application built specifically for the Windows 8.1 platform by specialist independent software vendor Jeppesen. This gives flight crews access to real-time information and resources, “such as dynamic charts and navigation utilities”, that they need to better manage the safe operation of aircraft. In future, the airline plans to expand the use of EFBs by providing pilots with electronic dispatch and flight release information, access to real-time weather forecasts, up-to-the-minute operational information and dynamic communication with aircraft technicians on the ground.

The move to a paperless cockpit follows Delta’s August 2014 introduction of handheld devices for its 19,000 flight attendants, which run on Windows Phone, the Nokia Lumia 820. This allows cabin crew to access customer and flight information while using Microsoft’s Dynamics for Retail application for onboard customer purchases.

Delta expects to receive approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use the tablets during all phases of flight next year, a process that follows an extensive period of testing on board Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 aircraft. Approvals for all fleet types are expected by the end of 2014.

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