Errant App Caused iPad Problems for Some American Airlines Pilots

American's pilots use iPads as electronic flight bags to display flight maps, airport runway maps and more. An errant map in a key app led to some flight delays.

American Airlines, digital flight bag, iPads, Jeppesen, flight delays

A duplicate airport runway chart in a key flight app that American Airlines pilots use on their iPad digital flight bags caused iPad malfunctions that led to delays in some American Airlines flights earlier this week.

The errant extra map was in the Jeppesen digital flight bag app used by American's pilots on iPads since 2013, according to Michael Pound, a spokesman for Jeppesen. "The cause of the issue was a single duplicate chart for Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., in the chart database we supply to American. The version of the app they use is not able to reconcile duplicate charts, which caused the app to become unresponsive for those pilots who had 'favorited' National."

The glitch caused delays until technicians realized what the problem was and came up with a workaround. "The immediate remedy was to uninstall and reinstall the app, which restored the app to normal operation," wrote Pound. "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."

The problem arose for flights that were on the ground and trying to move around within the airport. It did not affect any flights that were in the air.

The app issue caused problems for about 24 American Airlines pilots on April 28 starting at about 8 p.m. EDT, and for another 50 pilots on the morning of April 29, Andrea Huguely, a spokesperson for the airline, told eWEEK. The airline has about 6,700 flights a day, so only a small percentage of flight crews were affected by the app problem, she said. The app glitch was quickly reported to Jeppesen, and the company began working on a fix for the pilots, she said.

"We kept communicating with our pilots to make sure they got that," said Huguely. The problem was soon identified, and pilots with the errant apps were told to uninstall and then reinstall the Jeppesen app, she said.

Pilots were also told that they could download a .PDF file to their iPad to get the National airport map so they could navigate their way around the airport's runways and taxiways, she said.

"The issue was that the app had an [airport] terminal maps problem, so it couldn't show runways," said Huguely. "They couldn't move until they saw those runways. It did cause some delays, but thankfully, the delays were not long."

Pilots also have options to get an old-fashioned paper map from someone within the airport, if desired, according to Huguely. "We always have a backup [document available] so the pilot can choose whichever one he thinks is most prudent and causes the fewest delays."

Some American passengers posted tweets about their flight delays on April 28 and 29, announcing that their flight crews had advised them of the delays involving the errant iPads.

In response, an American spokesperson responded with a tweet describing the problem. "@bjacaruso Some flights are experiencing an issue with a software application on pilot iPads," the advisory tweet said. "We'll have info about your departure soon."

American Airlines began using iPads and the digital flight bag app from Jeppesen back in 2013 as a way to help pilots shed some 35 pounds of thick, paper-based manuals, flight maps, airport maps and more. Pilots for decades had to carry the old-style heavy flight bags, which often had to be manually updated with new pages. That was a burden for pilots and sometimes meant that the latest pages had not been inserted into the manuals.

American was the first major commercial airline to use iPads in its planes during all phases of flight, according to Jeppesen. The airline received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to use the digital flight bags on its Boeing 777, 767, 757, 737 and MD-80 jets.

Other airlines have also implemented their own digital flight bag deployments, including United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and UPS.