Updated Dozens of American Airlines flights were delayed this morning when pilots' iPads abruptly crashed, leaving the entire AA fleet without access to vital flight plans and, resultantly, grounded.
American Airlines uses specific software on its pilots' iPads to distribute flight plans and relevant information to the crew.
The electronic system, which was implemented in 2013, replaces heavy paper-based reference manuals with much easier to carry electronic versions.
The American Airlines "electronic flight bag" was the first such system approved by the notoriously untimely FAA, back in 2012. Replacing the bulky 35lbs flight bags also allowed airlines to save fuel.
The system had not raised hackles until this morning, when an unspecified problem led to the grounding of the airline's entire Boeing 737 fleet.
"Some flights are experiencing an issue with a software application on pilot iPads," an American Airlines statement said. "In some cases, the flight has had to return to the gate to access a Wi-Fi connection to fix the issue."
The glitch occurs days after the FBI issued an alert about passengers using the onboard Wi-Fi to bother the flight systems, although there has not been any official suggestion of external interference contributing to the American Airlines snafu.
"The pilot told us when they were getting ready to take off, the iPad screens went blank, both for the captain and copilot, so they didn’t have the flight plan," Toni Jacaruso, a Twitter-friendly passenger told Quartz.
"The pilot came on and said that his first mate’s iPad powered down unexpectedly, and his had too, and that the entire 737 fleet on American had experienced the same behavior," said passenger Philip McRell, who was booked on the same flight as Jacaruso. "It seemed unprecedented and very unfamiliar to the pilots."
@bjacaruso Some flights are experiencing an issue with a software application on pilot iPads. We'll have info about your departure soon.— American Airlines (@AmericanAir) April 29, 2015
It is unclear who is at fault for the cockup. The Register has contacted AA, Apple and the makers of the flight planning software, Jeppesen, and will update this story if we hear back from them. ®
A spookesman for American Airlines contacted us with this statement: “We experienced technical issues with an application installed on some pilot iPads. This issue was with the third-party application, not the iPad, and caused some departure delays last night and this morning. Our pilots have been able to address the issue by downloading the application again at the gate prior to take-off and as a back-up, are able to rely on paper charts they can obtain at the airport. We apologise for the inconvenience to our customers.”
A Jeppesen spokesman told The Register: "The cause of the issue experienced by American Airlines was a single duplicate chart for Reagan National Airport in Washington DC in their chart database. The version of the app used by American is not able to reconcile duplicate charts, which caused those pilots who had ‘favorited’ National to have the app become unresponsive. The immediate remedy was to uninstall and reinstall the app, which restored the iPads to normal operation. The duplicate chart will be removed in the next database update, May 8. In the meantime, American is pushing .pdf files to their pilots flying to or from National."