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Delta Replacing Flight Manuals with Surface Tablets 244

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the microsoft-to-acquire-delta dept.
Frosty Piss writes "Delta Air Lines plans to buy 11,000 Microsoft Surface 2 tablets for its pilots to replace the heavy bundles of books and maps they haul around now. Delta says the Surface tablets will save it $13 million per year in fuel and other costs. Right now, each pilot carries a 38-pound flight bag with manuals and maps. Other airlines, including American and United, have been buying Apple's iPad for that purpose. One reason Delta picked a Microsoft device was that it's easier to give pilots separate sections for company and personal use, said Steve Dickson, Delta's senior vice president for flight operations. Another reason for picking the Surface tablet is that Delta's training software also runs on the same Windows operating system as the tablets, reducing the need to redo that software for another device, Dickson said."
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Delta Replacing Flight Manuals with Surface Tablets

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  • My experience.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Monday September 30, 2013 @10:02PM (#44997921)

    Here in AMC (Air Mobility Command, USAF) we use the iPad with an OtterBox case. Hope there is a tough case for the Surface, because even is a nice jet like the C-17, these things take a beating.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      my experience on the b-1 immediately lets me hate you

    • by jader3rd (2222716)
      Surfaces don't need nice cases. Have you every handled one? They're weapons.
  • by smash (1351) on Monday September 30, 2013 @10:03PM (#44997923) Homepage Journal
    ... what could possibly go wrong?
    • by the_B0fh (208483)

      Hey, Angry Birds, ya know.

    • They aren't flight-critical devices.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Sorry, Wrong!

        The FAA requires up-to-date charts appropriate for the routes being flown. The FAA has approved these as legal substitutes for printed charts as long as they are current (at Least IPads are, I assume Delta will be getting approval for these things).

        So unless they are also carrying the "38 pounds" of paper charts, these things ARE flight critical devices by definition.

        • by skiflyer (716312)

          Not what flight critical means...

          • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday October 01, 2013 @12:02AM (#44998615) Homepage Journal

            Not what flight critical means...

            perhaps not to the FAA's definitions section, but to muggles it sure seems critical to have maps and operations guides always available.

            These people are absolutely insane if they allow the devices to make a network connection to anything but a controlled updates server. Windows zero-days are real and common.

            I sure hope the Delta security folks got their recommendations in writing.

            • by smash (1351) on Tuesday October 01, 2013 @12:43AM (#44998833) Homepage Journal

              Pretty much my line of thinking. Whilst in theory, iOS devices are also breakable, the comparison for instances of malware for the two platforms is night and day.

              Also, by default, on iOS, all applications are sandboxed. Whilst this may be true for metro apps on Windows 8, it most certainly is NOT true for non-metro applications.

              But in any case, I'd seriously suggest not running personal software on a device such as this irrespective of that. For a device in this role, I'd be locking it down tighter than fish's arse-hole - to the point where "personal use" beyond access to the corporate e-mail system would be pretty much impossible anyway.

              • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday October 01, 2013 @01:54AM (#44999093)

                You needn't worry - these are Surface tablets.

                The flight crews have no interest in using them for anything personal.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Anonymous Coward

                Pretty much my line of thinking. Whilst in theory, iOS devices are also breakable, the comparison for instances of malware for the two platforms is night and day.

                Your statement is technically correct, but with the opposite meaning of what you think. This is the ARM-based non-Windows compatible Surface we are talking about here. I follow security and haven't seen any reports about malware for this platform yet. And it has significant protection in the new app/API model, it does run all apps in sandbox, and only running signed code.

                Not saying it is malware proof, and if people here have links to in-the-wild malware for ARM Surface I'd be truly interested to be correct

            • by segin (883667) <segin2005@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 01, 2013 @01:52AM (#44999081) Homepage
              TFA says they're buying Surface 2 tablets, not Surface Pro 2. Which use ARM processors. Which cannot run malware designed for x86. Which mostly invalidates your argument.
          • by tftp (111690)

            Not what flight critical means...

            I guess you live pretty far from San Francisco airport. The latest crash there, just a month ago, illustrated pretty well why it is worth knowing stuff about the place where you are about to land.

            • by Alioth (221270)

              The crash wasn't caused by a lack of a chart. The sort of information the crew had they'd know from their briefing, even if every handheld device failed in the flight deck. The crash was caused by basic airmanship (stick and rudder) skill problems.

    • by bondsbw (888959) on Monday September 30, 2013 @10:15PM (#44998021)

      Separating personal use from professional use is better than mixing them.

      • Bolting it to the plane is even better.

        • by skiflyer (716312)

          Yeah, I was confused as to why they wouldn't just do that, or at least just have a pool of them at each airport. Drop it off when you finish your flight and it will be updated, charged, cleaned, etc.

          I guess you're saving even more weight if your pilot isn't also carrying a personal laptop for when he gets to the destination, and people do tend to take better care of devices if they're theirs... maybe that's the logic, or maybe the logic is in the article I didn't read.

          • I don't know how the airlines work, but I could picture a pilot making several flights in a day, on different planes, instead of there-and-back-again journeys. Instead of doing New York to Chicago, then turning around and doing Chicago to New York, a pilot could do New York to Chicago, Chicago to Salt Lake, Salt Lake to Los Angeles, to Dallas, to Atlanta, to New York; sometimes doing training flights as a co-pilot, sometimes as the main pilot.

            In such a case it would be helpful if the pilot had a personal
            • by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Tuesday October 01, 2013 @02:20AM (#44999177) Journal

              As I understand it, normal practice is that the pilot stays with the same plane throughout their shift, unless technical issues require the airline to substitute another plane. Most pilots are only allowed to fly one type of plane. (They can retrain for a different model, but this takes a month or two. It isn't something you study up on a lay-over.) So they aren't going to fly a 737 in the morning and a 767 in the afternoon. (There are exceptions. The 757/767 pair and the A330/A340 pair were designed to have nearly identical cockpits so that pilots could swap between those types at will. Also, a few pilots are current on more than one type.)

              It makes sense - the pilots need as about as much downtime between flights as the planes do. If your schedule involved swapping pilots between planes, you'd get even more disruption by delayed flights than currently.

              "Co-pilot" is a misleading term. They are both pilots, one is captain and the other is first officer. Both are trained to do anything that needs to be done. 50% of take-offs and landings are performed by first officers rather than captains. (The non-flying pilot will be talking to ATC, troubleshooting technical issues and assisting the flying pilot in other ways.)

  • Because I can't imagine them doing this any other wise. As pointed out else where, this is going to take 2 more years. $5.5 mil for iPads, or $13 mil in fuel savings per year. Hmm... Someone help me with the math here.

    And in two years, once the Surface 2 gets certified, what happens? Delta is now flying with 2 year old technology... whoopie.

    • by icebike (68054)

      Buying 11,000 Microsoft Surface 2 tablets is not "gave it to us free".

      Surface 2 release date is set for October 22, not two years, and these don't have to be certified.
      Something that can show your flight maps and NOTAMS today will show the same in two years.

      • by sribe (304414)

        Surface 2 release date is set for October 22, not two years, and these don't have to be certified.

        1) Delta says it will be 2 years from now when they get this fully implemented.

        2) Yes, they do have to be certified by the FAA for this use, and Delta states they expect that certification to be received next year.

        • by tftp (111690)

          Delta is probably confused. The name "Surface 2" does not mean that the tablet will be still in production 2 years down the road.

          As matter of fact, it'd be mightily insane to expect any given tablet to remain in production for two years. Whole chipsets get invented, sold and obsoleted in this time frame. Even if MS has the best intentions in the world (which they rarely do,) they may not be physically able to buy the parts.

          Besides, once the device is approved, it will stay in use for a few years before

          • by icebike (68054)

            Give the same OS, approving a follow on device would only require an fcc certification. Since its a commercial device that will be taken care of.

            By that time actual on line use of the device in aircraft willbe allowed. That is already about to be approved for any fcc certified devices.

            If fragile ipad can get approved it can't be that big of a deal.

            • by sribe (304414)

              By that time actual on line use of the device in aircraft willbe allowed. That is already about to be approved for any fcc certified devices.

              I don't think you understand. Allowing a device to be used inside an aircraft during flight is not the same as allowing it to be used by cabin crew as a replacement for their "flight bags". In one case the FAA doesn't give a flying fuck if the device crashes every 10 minutes, or has crappy touch input that ignores every other tap, or any other aspect of quality as long as it doesn't interfere with aircraft control; in the other case they care very much that it works well and reliably, and they do require ce

            • by tftp (111690)

              Give the same OS,

              The same OS??? You mean no service packs, no hotfixes, no nothing? That would be a radical departure from Microsoft's practice of releasing a Beta onto the customer and then gradually fixing the most glaring bugs online.

              The OS never stays the same. You actually would be better off with an old Blackberry devices - it is guaranteed to remain the same :-) It's so easy to update software that those updates occur on weekly basis - sometimes just for marketing purposes.

              The same OS on a dif

      • by segin (883667)

        Surface 2 release date is set for October 22, not two years, and these don't have to be certified. Something that can show your flight maps and NOTAMS today will show the same in two years.

        From TFA:

        Delta plans to test the tablets on its Boeing 757s and 767s, which are flown by the same group of pilots. The airline is hoping for Federal Aviation Administration approval next year to use the tablets throughout a flight, and it hopes to be using the devices on all of its other planes by the end of next year.

        If certification is not required, then why are they waiting for FAA approval? Yes, they don't expect it to take two years (more like six to nine months), but regardless, what does the release date on the device matter if you still have to wait for approval? Or is TFA just plain wrong on the whole requiring approval thing?

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday September 30, 2013 @10:23PM (#44998065) Journal
      I can tell you, I hate Microsoft for both rational and irrational reasons. But there is one area that Microsoft beats out the competition, and that is backwards compatibility. If you want to write software that will still run in 10 years, then choosing carefully among Microsoft technologies is a decent way to do that. So if I were Delta, and were deciding whether to do this on iPads or Window Tablets, I would also choose the Windows Tablet, because Apple has demonstrated they have no longterm (or medium term) commitment to backwards compatibility. That is especially true since they already have a codebase set up to run on Windows. Remember that the tablets themselves are likely the cheapest part of this whole operation.

      The best would be Linux tablets, because then you can own the whole software stack. The only drawback is the UI situation on Linux........
      • by the_B0fh (208483)

        Then Android. Are you talking about the hot and heavy, clunky Surface Pro, or the yet-to-be-released-or-tested Surface 2?

        I'm curious how anyone would go for a yet-to-be-released hardware, versus hardware that's been battle tested.

        • by bondsbw (888959)

          They are still seeking FAA approval. By the expected time for approval, this tablet will be battle tested. Plus, it'll be relatively recent tech compared with the original.

        • Hardware is a small problem compared to the software problem. My post was addressing the software problem, and you neatly sidestepped it.
          • by the_B0fh (208483)

            Nice how you neatly dismissed it. If hardware is such a small problem, why didn't previous generations of CE-based Microsoft tablets work? If hardware is such a small problem, why not laptops, after all, it even has a keyboard for precise data entry.

            • Windows CE isn't compatible with Windows.

              The previous generation of Windows XP tablets probably would have worked fine, I don't know why they didn't do this back then. Possibly they just didn't think of it, you'll have to ask them.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If that's true, they why doesn't my old Windows software work under Vista or Win7 or Win8? Why do I have to use WINE to run my applications? I mean there's a zillion "compatibility" options and none of them work. But WINE, that works everywhere.

        Why do my windows applications work better on a Mac with WINE from MacPorts than Windows 7 or 8?

        People who say Microsoft has backwards compatibility have never tried it! You've just read the sales literature... Oh, and by the way, the word gullible is written on

        • by bondsbw (888959)

          You complain about the lack of backwards compatibility for very old applications. Others complain about bloat. Microsoft has done very well in keeping backwards compatibility, but there are limits even for them.

          You have a solution, use it.

        • by Decker-Mage (782424) <jack_of_shadows@yahoo.com> on Monday September 30, 2013 @11:07PM (#44998317)
          I support a lot of businesses that have little to no interest in the latest hardware or ripping out and replacing their software. That came about due to them putting all their (financial) eggs in a DOS/Windows/... basket and a total commitment that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." I have no idea why you are using WINE when Dosbox does a pretty damn wonderful job of running the legacy (antique) software, especially games and productivity software. I just spent the day here segregating software by category and one of the major ones is legacy Microsoft.

          I'm running Windows 3.11 over DOS 6.22 here with no problems on a latest and greatest Z77 motherboard which I selected precisely due to the fact that it seems to be last machine with both floppy disk and IDE drive plugs on the motherboard. It's a weird job, but someone's got to be able to do it. Oh, and Turbo C++ runs on all versions of Windows to date here. Real handy for a quick filter/translate hack.
        • by narcc (412956)

          People who say Microsoft has backwards compatibility have never tried it!

          Or they've had nothing but success.

          A company I occasionally do work for dropped an old dos program that was in use since 1990 a couple years back. It was running just fine in Windows 7.

          I've yet to see an old Windows program that wouldn't run. I've heard anecdotes, sure, but it's never been something I've actually encountered. The most I've ever had to do was check the "Run this program in compatibility mode for" box and pick an old version of Windows. That happens so infrequently I can't even recall the

          • by segin (883667)
            This generally boils down to games or other consumer-specific software that use undocumented or release-specific functionality or behavior (or third party middleware that does such), or invent their own way of handling certain things prior to such behavior being "standardized" in the OS. Software written before widespread consumer adoption of NT-derived Windows releases that stores configuration data in it's install directory, for example. (While there is file system virtualization for such applications in
        • by segin (883667)
          There are always things that an application can do to limit it's ability to run on future operating system releases. Relying on undocumented, poorly documented, or implementation-specific behavior will generally cause your application to require (a) specific OS release(s).
      • by rtb61 (674572)

        If you want a printed chart to work in ten years, wait what, it'll work in a hundred years, even a thousand years. Why tablets shouldn't be used, if you have a severe enough electrical failure to knock out the built in charts and manuals in the airplane's computer system with the large screen LCD displays, relying on a toy content distribution tablets seems pretty silly. Sometimes the manual system makes a lot more sense to stick with and the savings wont pay for a plane load of dead customers.

        • If you want a printed chart to work in ten years, wait what, it'll work in a hundred years, even a thousand years.

          No they won't they get outdated too quickly. RTFA. Also it's not mission-critical, so if it fails, no one will die because their tablet failed.

      • by gbjbaanb (229885)

        That was the case, but Microsoft has been making those awesome management decisions ....

        Obviously the first one was the Surface RT - ARM based and though it could be backwards-compatible with a recompile for the most part, MS won't allow you to run your old stuff on it, they want you to rewrite as Modern app using the new APIs and sell it only via their 30%-cut store.... In other areas they are dropping support for technologies they don't really want to support - Silverlight anyone?

        The UI situation on Linux

    • $5.5m for iPads + $xx.xm for re-writing and testing software that already works on Windows.

      Perhaps they have a long term agreement for continued supply of Surface 2's
      Good luck getting that from Apple. iPad 2 came out 2 1/2 years ago, can I get a replacement now or do I have to upgrade and re-test and re-certify it?

    • by LynnwoodRooster (966895) on Monday September 30, 2013 @11:00PM (#44998279) Journal

      And in two years, once the Surface 2 gets certified, what happens? Delta is now flying with 2 year old technology... whoopie.

      If two years scares you, I pray you NEVER look at the age of some of the flight electronics in the cockpit. Some of those designs and products are over two decades old!

      • Never mind two decades, the friggin air force has bombers in active service that were built in the 1950s.

        An airplane doesn't need to play the newest version of angry birds, it needs to avoid injesting large birds.

        It's not like they run Windows, so they're overrun with viruses if they aren't updated weekly. Oh shit.

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          the friggin air force has bombers in active service that were built in the 1950s.

          But much like some famous women of the same era, they've had a lot of work done up front to keep them serviceable.

  • by GrBear (63712) on Monday September 30, 2013 @10:17PM (#44998027)

    Considering the pilots fought to keep the iPads and didn't want Surface, there's more going on behind the scene here.

    http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/09/30/delta-pilots-fought-against-deal-to-replace-ipad-flight-bags-with-microsoft-surface [appleinsider.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MatthiasF (1853064)
      Fanboy site takes one person's opinion and stretches it across entire group of people, fills rest of article with cherry-picked fluff from other sites.

      News at 11.
      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday September 30, 2013 @11:53PM (#44998563)

        Fanboy site takes one person's opinion and stretches it across entire group of people, fills rest of article with cherry-picked fluff from other sites.

        While I applaud efforts to modernize aircraft guides, etc., I have to wonder if these will perform as well as regular print would in certain emergencies. Violent vibration is often a precursor to engine failure, for example, and anyone can tell you that trying to view an LCD that is on a vibrating surface is nearly impossible; Have they tested how well pilots can use this device in such an emergency?

        I'd like to know more about the testing that has gone into how well these devices integrate into crew functions during an emergency -- is it as fast? Faster? Will it function well during, say, an explosive decompression (or will the display shatter)? Can it be read in direct sunlight, or when heavy smoke is in the cabin? What procedures are in place to deal with sudden device failure -- do they have backups, one per pilot, one per crew?

        So far all I've heard is the benefits to Delta, the corporation: Reduced fuel costs. What I haven't heard of is how this affects flight safety. And to be clear, Delta doesn't have a great record when it comes to this -- AirTran and Southwest Airlines routinely beat them out, and these are budget airlines. Delta aspires to be the go-to for frequent business fliers, and those tickets are at a premium. Delta has routinely shown it is more profit than safety oriented, to the point that airlines with much smaller budgets routinely beat them on maintenance, training, and flight safety.

        Well, Delta... did you already prepare a press release for when it's discovered that an inability to access critical checklists during an emergency because of device failure or lack of training wasn't your fault? Or have you done the responsible thing and made sure there's redundancy and adequate training? I know which one costs more... the question is, which one did you pick.

        • Most pilots want this. Plus, the checklists are still paper.

          Seriously, it's even in the summary. Pilots are currently carrying around 40lbs worth of charts. Not checklists, just old fashioned paper maps. That's one bag with just paper. Then you add a suitcase for two weeks, and a backpack on top of that. So, not only are pilots carting around a ridiculous amount of paper that doesn't get used, but they can't fly with just carry on.

          Believe it or not, airlines book commercial tickets to get there pilots

  • by Marqis (197235) on Monday September 30, 2013 @10:17PM (#44998029) Homepage

    Now MS has sold 11,023 tablets!

  • by GrBear (63712)

    Blue Sky of Death

  • Not flight critical (Score:5, Informative)

    by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Monday September 30, 2013 @10:32PM (#44998115) Journal

    My understanding* is that many airlines are doing this, and the flight critical standard and emergency check-lists are still kept in hard copy. The material no longer on paper will be things like approach maps for a few hundred airports, and manuals for seldom-adjusted aircraft systems. Should such documents be required but unavailable due to misfunctioning tablets, air traffic controllers and the airline's dispatch centre would be able to assist by radio.

    If there is a real pilot in the house, perhaps they could comment further.

    * I am a non-pilot with an interest in aviation, so I try to follow such developments via internet news sites.

  • by jasontheking (124650) on Monday September 30, 2013 @10:43PM (#44998171)

    hey, can't you see I'm RTFMing ?

  • Possible reasons? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxrubyNO@SPAMcomcast.net> on Monday September 30, 2013 @11:03PM (#44998303)

    Microsoft would have offered a very sweetheart deal pricewise for this.

    From Delta's standpoint it would also have the advantage in that almost nothing runs on it, meaning that people aren't going to muck with it install crap software and malware on the Surface RT is all but unheard of. They also almost certainly would have offered some type of enterprise management tools for the tablets from MS.

    Enterprise support for the Ipad is a royal pain at best and tools are quite limited. The app store is oblivious to the concept that a computer could be owned my a company instead of a person. Support issues go far beyond these and their IT department doubtless didn't want to deal with it.

    I'm not endorsing the Surface RT and I've certainly gone on the record here about how it's a terrible tablet. I'm just explaining the logic behind the order. They certainly could have made a much better choice than the Surface RT.

    • by jader3rd (2222716)

      They also almost certainly would have offered some type of enterprise management tools for the tablets from MS.

      I know System Center and Intune can manage RT devices.

  • by Solandri (704621) on Monday September 30, 2013 @11:05PM (#44998307)

    Another reason for picking the Surface tablet is that Delta's training software also runs on the same Windows operating system as the tablets, reducing the need to redo that software for another device, Dickson said."

    Considering they bought the ARM version of the tablet, someone's going to be very disappointed (and probably in a lot of trouble) when they discover that it does not run the same operating system as their training software. At least not unless their training software only runs on an extremely limited number of low-power computers.

    Good news is, Microsoft's deception campaign to trick people expecting to run Windows apps into buying their ARM OS is working.

  • by tooyoung (853621) on Monday September 30, 2013 @11:36PM (#44998467)
    In other words, think long and hard about having Steve Dickson make purchasing decisions for your company in the future....
  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Monday September 30, 2013 @11:41PM (#44998493)
    I hope these work out a lot better than the Microsoft mobile scanners that we use on the ramp and in cargo to track bags/cargo. I'm 30 yards from the damn wireless transmitter and I lose signal at least once a day. Inside a giant warehouse. But yeah, I imagine they went with Microsoft tablets because most of the other computer systems Delta uses is Microsoft, so it streamlines things. However, over the past 6 months or so they have started to give out iPhones as company issued phones to managers and supervisors in the headquarters, but the ones on the ramp and other areas still use Blackberries.
  • so they can't just buy the el-cheapo $800 surface, they need the $1400 surface pro. may as well buy a laptop at that pricepoint.

  • Sir, the plane is not responding!
    What does the flight manual say to do?
    Nothing! But, the Autopilot said to "Sit on the damn tablet and rotate" before it stopped talking to me!

  • So in case of flight emergency the flight crew will have the speed of windows search to find the correct procedures. I feel safer already...
  • Wow. I didnt know Delta was using Windows RT internally for all those years .......

    Looks like M$ is in panic mode and giving surfaces away for free just to get some PR and traction.

  • That's about equal really because my map and books run out of batteries all the time. Don't even get me started on how often the flash memory in them fails or that I drop it and it shatters.

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