When Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) unveiled the iPad last April, some 3 million of the tablet computers flew off real and virtual store shelves in only 80 days. With the second generation of the highly touted consumer tech toy set to arrive at U.S. retailers this Friday, the iPad is again preparing to take flight – this time on airlines.
Rising demand for iPads has predictably spawned a wide range of apps for businesses and consumers, some of which can enhance the efficiency of airline operations and add value for their customers. This comes at a time when pricier fuel is eating into airline earnings and passengers are irked that they are paying more to get less.
Now, airlines are beginning to discover that when it comes to streamlining operations and increasing customer satisfaction, “there’s an app for that”. Generally speaking, iPads and other tablet devices offer airlines the unique benefit of improving efficiency, decreasing costs, and bringing in desperately needed additional revenue. Here are five specific ways air carriers could use iPads to their advantage:
- Increasing Pilot Efficiency Via Paperless Charts. The Federal Aviation Administration recently approved Executive Jet Management’s plan to use iPads to deliver aeronautical charts to their pilots electronically. Jeppesen Systems, the aeronautical and charting subsidiary of Boeing (NYSE:BA), has certified the Mobile TC iPad app, which gives pilots an alternative to the cumbersome paper aeronautical charts that have long been used by the industry. For the past decade, airlines have been looking for a more efficient, paperless chart system, but to no avail. The FAA does allow pilots to use so-called electronic flight bags, but these aviation computers are bulky and weigh as much as 18 pounds. By comparison, the new iPad 2 weighs only 1.3 pounds. Executive Jet Management is using the iPad app as its reference for all of its flights. Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) reportedly has begun testing iPads with a small group of their pilots, as is Alaska Air (NYSE:ALK).
- Shedding The Weight Of Paper Manuals. iPads also can replace heavy manuals and can be used to boost efficiency for ground operations and other preflight checks. For example, Jeppesen’s CrewAlert iPad app allows airline crews to manage their fatigue, a key factor in increasing efficiency and reducing errors. Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) already is using iPads for its ground operations. The use of iPads in cockpits has the potential to increase efficiency and reduce more errors than the current systems in place. That will help fuel usage and reduce operating costs.
- Cutting Customer Service Costs, Increasing Functionality. Several airlines are introducing iPads to streamline customer service functions for passengers like check-in, seating, etc. Malaysia Airlines’ MHmobile app allows passengers to book flights and access up to date travel information on the go. Even the carrier’s eMagazine, Going Places, is available on iPad. United Continental’s (NYSE:UAL) new Travel App for iPads features flight booking, check-in and mobile boarding pass storage, flight status and push notification, airport maps and more.
- A New Source of Fee Income. In the age of fuel price volatility, airlines must find new sources of income that won’t leave customers feeling gouged – and accessing in-flight entertainment via an iPad can be a win-win for passengers and carriers. For airlines that don’t already have personal in-flight entertainment (IFE) devices, iPads provide an instant solution without expensive installation costs. Many airlines don’t have personal IFEs and have no intention of upgrading their planes to incorporate them because of the expense of installation, wiring and maintenance. By renting out iPads to passengers, however, airlines can skip a full generation of IFE technology and the associated costs in favor of a popular, high-tech gadget with less weight, more choices for passengers and an almost instant return on investments. Jetstar Airways, an Australian budget airline, is launching a program to rent iPads to passengers for about $8.50. The airline expects high demand among passengers for its initial limited trial that kicks off in June. If the test is successful, Jetstar will expand the offering to all of its flights later this year. If other airlines follow suit, it could bring a sizable boost in revenue to the airline industry.
As of this writing, Susan J. Aluise did not hold an interest in any of the stocks named here.