Exclusive: Southwest Airlines gunning for paperless cockpit with Wi-Fi-enabled tablets

November 28, 2012


Southwest 737 800 cockpit small Exclusive: Southwest Airlines gunning for paperless cockpit with Wi Fi enabled tabletsSouthwest Airlines today revealed it hopes to start bringing Wi-Fi to its cockpits before the end of the year now that a fix to Honeywell Phase 3 display units (DU) has been agreed. The DUs, installed on a portion of Southwest’s 737NG fleet – and myriad other 737NGs - were shown to be susceptible to electo magnetic interference during ground testing of wireless systems and, as such, 737NG pilots (at Southwest and other airlines) have not been permitted to use Wi-Fi in the cockpit, even for real-time electronic flight bag (EFB) applications. In an email interview with the APEX editor’s blog Southwest’s very busy chief engineer, Brian Gleason, divulges that the carrier plans to arm all of its pilots with tablets by 2014, and that these tablet-based EFBs will use Southwest’s Row 44-supplied inflight Wi-Fi connection to access real-time weather information, Dispatch paperwork, and live NOTAM updates. See the full interview below.

Question: What does Southwest Airlines’ EFB programme entail right now, and what are Southwest’s plans for the future (i.e. will the carrier arm its pilots with iPads or another PED for Class 1, portable EFB purposes)?

Southwest has had an EFB tablet device installed in our fleet since 1997 for performance calculations and electronic manuals. We are currently evaluating providing tablet devices to each pilot to replace our current device, plus add charting and weather applications.  We are not planning to roll out to our entire pilot group until 2014.

Question: How many Southwest aircraft are currently fitted with Row 44 connectivity? All -700 and -800s will be equipped by the end of 2012.

Question: Southwest has said it hopes to offer Wi-Fi in its cockpits before year-end. Will the cockpit Wi-Fi be used by Southwest pilots for real-time EFB apps – like live satellite pictures? What other operational benefits might be gleaned from connected EFBs?

Southwest is working with Row 44 and the FAA to permit the use of Wi-Fi in the cockpit for applications such as real-time weather information, Dispatch paperwork, live NOTAM updates, etc.

Question: Would pilots need to log into the Southwest Wi-Fi portal to access the Internet, or would Southwest provide a separate portal for pilots? Also, does Southwest need to carve out a certain amount of Ku-band capacity (with Row 44) to offer pilots a consistent service?  

The protocols for Flight Crew access have yet to be determined, however, we don’t anticipate that the bandwidth requirements for the Flight Crew applications will have an impact on the Customers’ user experience of Wi-Fi.

Question: How many of Southwest’s 737NGs have the Honeywell Phase 3 displays (which have proven to be susceptible to electro magnetic interference? Has Southwest been eager to see a fix – the newly announced Phase 3A – so that it can implement cockpit Wi-Fi for EFB use? Has the FAA given any guidance on when it will approve the Service Bulletin?

We have a mixture of Phase 2 and Phase 3 displays and have been working actively with Honeywell, Row44, and the FAA to resolve the issue surrounding the use of Wi-Fi in aircraft that have the Honeywell Phase 3 displays installed.

Question: Boeing recently confirmed that it has started delivering new 737-800s with the new Phase 3A displays. Has Southwest accepted delivery of any new 737-800s with the Phase 3A displays, and can Southwest confirm that the displays are not susceptible to EMI?  

Our understanding is Boeing is not delivering the modified displays until sometime in 2013.

Question: I see that Southwest – along with Lufthansa – participated in a recent ARINC EFB forum to maximize the operational benefit of EFBs. What came out of the forum? Was anything agreed or decided?

To continue working closely with the FAA policy makers to ensure the successful and safe implementation of EFBs in the cockpit working environment.

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About Mary Kirby

Editor in Chief - APEX Media Platform | Previously Senior Editor at Flight International where she led the magazine's coverage of in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) and aircraft interiors | Former proprietor of the highly-regarded Runway Girl blog, which focused on the passenger experience | Regularly speaks at industry conferences about airborne communications, ancillary revenue opportunities for airlines and social media | You can connect with Mary on Twitter, LinkedIn

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