back to article iPad data entry errors caused plane to strike runway during takeoff

On the 1st of August, 2014, cabin crew aboard a 737 operated by Australian airline QANTAS reported hearing a “squeak” during takeoff. The crew's ears were good: the sound they heard was the plane's tail scraping the ground – a “tailstrike” - during takeoff. That's the conclusion of an Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) …

  1. Field Commander A9

    Using toys as tools...

    Why can't they use a proper tool like a Surface 3 with a proper typecover?

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Using toys as tools...

      Probably a number of reasons.

      1) They need a product that will last the trip, even if the charger dies.

      2) They need a product with a rich and vibrant software ecosystem and numerous developers that are familiar with writing software for that device.

      3) They need a device that is stable, not rebooting unexpectedly, throwing random driver errors, downloading so many patches it stops working because it filled up primary storage or any of the millions of other reasons why a stock Windows device will bite the dust where an iOS device won't.

      4) They need a device which will work with $external_device or $external_interface; in the mobile world, that always means iOS support.

      5) They need a device that anyone can use over the course of generations without retraining.

      6) They especially need to never have to fear that a future update will completely change the UI, application compatibility or so forth in a radical fashion.

      7) They doubly especially need to be able to trust that the device won't apply game-changing updates without permission or snuck in as "important" or "critical" updates.

      8) They may have security concerns that require information entered to not be scraped and sent back to the mothership. The exacting details of a plane's takeoff, landing, flight path, etc all seem like things I'd like to keep secret.

      I could go on, but those are the big reasons for using iOS over Windows for mobile devices for me. This despite the fact that I loathe the iOS UI. (Though not nearly as much as I loathe Metro.)

      Also: many of the iPad typecovers are, in fact, quite a bit better than what Surface offers.

      That being said, I am curious to hear what the reasons of the airline in question are for choosing iOS. It would be fascinating to read the procurement choice history for that. iOS devices are excellent tools for a huge number of different situations. Surface devices are merely failures looking for a place to happen.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        I'm not sure why the downvotes for you Trevor. I do believe you're right. Also, the airline owns those iPads not the pilots so they can control updates and the software along with providing spares.

        Each pilot has one and on some airlines the lead Flight Attendent also has one for entering data (such as final passenger count and anything deemed "unusual" as to carry-on weight, etc. There's some links on line mostly from years ago that explain the reasons they pick certain bits and pieces of this hardware. IIRC, it started with the MD-80 when the flight engineer was eliminated. Prior to that aircraft, the FE was entering the data into the aircraft's system. Not the same data mind you... different times.

        1. BillG Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          I'm not sure why the downvotes for you Trevor.

          The downvotes are because most, if not all, of Trevor's points do not apply. The iPads that are approved for use by the FAA are not your standard run-of-the-mill iPads. They are heavily locked-down, heavily customized, and can only be updated by technicians that have validated the software again and again and again.

          They do not have access to the Apple app store, nor do they have Angry Birds installed. so any criticism from those that are anti-Surface are those with an unprofessional, untechnical anti-MS bias.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        @Trevor Pott

        1. Check, Surface Pro 3 should last the flight

        2. Rich and vibrant, and no app store restrictions. Check, Surface Pro 3 passes here.

        3. Check, no random reboots or lockups on my Surface Pro 3 in the last 12 months - and it goes weeks between planned reboots.

        4. Check, standard USB interface, Bluetooth and Wifi, so an advantage over the iPad there, which would need a Lightning USB convertor - or for industry, both would need a Lightning / USB to RS232 converter.

        5. I've been working with Windows, Mac OS and Linux since the mid 80s. Apart from the change to using a menu as opposed to rows of icons, Windows hasn't really changed that much that you need retraining - especially as we are talking about bespoke software here, so that would work the same regardless of the under operating system. Heck, with Windows you can boot directly into the application and not even see the Windows shell - in fact, you can set the application as the shell, so no chance of them playing games while they are waiting.

        6. The last radical change to Windows was in 1995.

        7. We are talking corporate devices here. WSUS (and similar tools) have been around for over a decade that allow you to control the roll-out of updates to corporate devices, so you test them on a select few devices, before rolling them out at your schedule to the rest of the fleet.

        8. So, that discounts iOS, Android, OS X and Windows. Better use a custom Linux distribution.

        The list you have given doesn't really stop the choice of any modern operating system. iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, MacOS or BSD would fulfil all of your requirements there. Some would be better suited than others, but the points in your list would be fulfilled by all of them.

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          6. The last radical change to Windows was in 1995.

          Really? Where do you rank that POS called Metro/modern/????. If tiles are not a redical re-design then I'm Charlies Aunt

          I'm with Trevor here. Metro is a steaming turd bolted on to something that was reasonably stable.

          If you want stability in an OS then look at Z/OS. 3270 Rules Ok!

          1. hplasm Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: Using toys as tools...

            " Metro is a steaming turd bolted on to something that was reasonably stable."

            That is unfair and inaccurate.

            Metro is the steam bolted on to something that was a reasonably unstable turd .

            FTFY

        2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          @Big_D

          1. Surface 3 will not last the legnth of all flights. Sorry. Regional flights maybe. But many international it will not.

          2. Sorry, but touch-interface ecosystem on Windows is garbage. The touch UI restrictions make the resulting apps horrible and there is not a huge ecosystem of developers who are skilled in making touch Windows apps.

          3. Sorry, Windows does randomly reboot for patches. It also locks up when it gets bad patches. In general patch management is pretty awful and responsible for an overwhelming % of modern Windows problems.

          4. Um, "standard USB interface" means nothing. There's way more mobile gear for Apple (using lightning or the audio jack) than there is for USB. This is a problem that plagues Android, Blackberry, Tizen, Windows and everyone else. Not only that, but the stuff for Apple tends to be better quality than the really bad knock-offs that end up in the USB ecosystem.

          5. Your subjective opinion is irrelevant. Microsoft changed the UI dramatically. It tried to force it on everyone. It is now trying to force updates to an entirely different operating system on people in order to force it's now newer new UI on people. Microsoft cannot be trusted to maintain a consistent platform.

          6. Wrong: Windows has had many radical changes. Silverlight. .NET. Metro. So on and so forth. From massive changes in API, to massive changes in UI, to changes in the behaviour of the update system to even the collection and personal data. Microsoft makes regular user/ecosystem/partner hostile changes and then randomly changes direction entirely, abandoning everyone who had invested in the previous regime.

          7. Corporate devices in theory will allow you to control patches, etc. Unfortunately, this isn't guaranteed. Microsoft has completely broken the faith and lost the trust of any rational or sane person when it comes to update management. When we are talking about devices that people's lives depend on, "trust me" doesn't cut it. Especially when the company saying "trust me" has proven repeatedly they cannot be trusted, nor have any interest in earning back the trust they have broken.

          8. Actually, no. iOS can be trusted. By default it is set to collect and report back massive amounts of data. That said, this can be turned off and Apple has at no point turned it back on without permission. Apple has been above board with regards to data protection so far. They aren't angels, but they haven't purposefully broken trust either. They especially haven't broken it repeatedly, unashamedly, nor tried to blame it on users.

          There are plenty of reasons to hate Apple, iPads, iOS and so forth. Hoovering up data against users' express configurations and sending that back to the mothership is not one of them. With Microsoft, this happens. Microsoft cannot be trusted with regards to privacy or data sovereignty, period.

          Windows is not suitable for any application where trust in the operating system or the company supplying that operating system is required.

          1. Sandtitz Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: Using toys as tools...

            2. Sorry, but touch-interface ecosystem on Windows is garbage. The touch UI restrictions make the resulting apps horrible and there is not a huge ecosystem of developers who are skilled in making touch Windows apps.

            An application doesn't have to be "modern" to utilize touch. In Point Of Sale sector the operating systems are typically Windows/Linux and the GUI exposed to the end-user works beautifully with touch.

            3. Sorry, Windows does randomly reboot for patches. It also locks up when it gets bad patches.

            No. Windows can be configured to patch and reboot on schedule.

            I've had to fix iPhones and iPads that booted into recovery mode after an OS patch. Any device with a sufficiently bad patch can be hosed.

            And Windows at least gets patches. The first iPad was supported for only two years before Apple dropped support.

            4. Um, "standard USB interface" means nothing. There's way more mobile gear for Apple (using lightning or the audio jack) than there is for USB.

            You've moved the goalposts. First talking about $external_devices and @external_interfaces, and now Apple mobile gear? This Pad is working in a cockpit, Starbucks Interface isn't needed here.

            Are you seriously claiming that there are more devices available for iPad with their proprietary connector than for USB? RDF is strong with this one.

            7. Corporate devices in theory will allow you to control patches, etc. Unfortunately, this isn't guaranteed. Microsoft has completely broken the faith and lost the trust of any rational or sane person when it comes to update management

            Please explain both sentences.

            NB: iPads are fine devices.

            1. big_D Silver badge

              Re: Using toys as tools...

              @Sandtitz

              Agreed, we have been making touch friendly applications on Linux and Windows industrial terminals for over a decade. The underlying OS is irrelevant to making a touch friendly application, as long as it has a driver for a touch panel.

            2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              Re: Using toys as tools...

              @sandtitz

              "An application doesn't have to be "modern" to utilize touch. In Point Of Sale sector the operating systems are typically Windows/Linux and the GUI exposed to the end-user works beautifully with touch."

              A valid point, however, the people who code this stuff well tend to be few and far between. There are umpteen horrific implementations, mostly because the APIs and frameworks aren't really designed for touch. In mobile OSes there's a whole new generation of developers who are used to touch...and the APIs that make it easy. The iOS ones they grew up on.

              "No. Windows can be configured to patch and reboot on schedule."

              No. It can't. It used to be something you could do, and (mostly) trust that it would work, but this is no longer true. Even when it was "true", there are plenty of examples of patches that downloaded and installed on systems even when WSUS was controlling them and the patches hadn't been released yet. I've personally gotten stung by them.

              But more to the point, the very design of Microsoft's approach to patching means you need to trust Microsoft that patching will work how they say it will work, and they won't fuck with it. They've broken that trust. That means they can't be trusted. Which means "Windows can be configured to patch and reboot on schedule" and everything else related to patching boils down to "trust Microsoft not to lie about this".

              I wouldn't trust them under normal circumstances. I absofuckinglutely won't when lives depend on it. They have lost that trust.

              "I've had to fix iPhones and iPads that booted into recovery mode after an OS patch. Any device with a sufficiently bad patch can be hosed."

              Absolutely. The difference is that iPads can be configured not to patch unless explicitly told to, and they will obey that configuration. There is no reason whatsoever to believe otherwise. Apple has never broken that trust. So patches can be held until well tested.

              "And Windows at least gets patches. The first iPad was supported for only two years before Apple dropped support."

              So? Why does this matter? Being "up to date" on patches simply doesn't matter anywhere near as much as having a stable, reliable system that you can trust. You can manage out-of-date systems many ways. Buying newer, up to date ones is a great example, and simple for the cost involved. Or you can build IDS and other security in at the network layer and implement policies that provide security for systems known to be out of date.

              Being vulnerable to some security flaws is nowhere near as deadly or important as having a system that cannot be trusted to behave exactly as expected.

              "You've moved the goalposts. First talking about $external_devices and @external_interfaces, and now Apple mobile gear? This Pad is working in a cockpit, Starbucks Interface isn't needed here.

              Are you seriously claiming that there are more devices available for iPad with their proprietary connector than for USB? RDF is strong with this one."

              I have not moved goalposts at all. I very specifically talked about mobile external devices and interfaces. You know, the sorts of small, low power things that you need in an aircraft cabin sensitive to EMF and where there is not a lot of room for things?

              It doesn't matter if there are fleventy-five desktop-based USB dinguses out there. What matters is that the things needed are small, long-lived, low power, high quality and did I mention small? Because for this particular use case, that's the criteria.

              "Please explain both sentences."

              It's very simple: Microsoft cannot be trusted to provide software that does what they say it does. Do you need pictures? In crayon perhaps?

              Patching systems are sacrosanct. You don't fuck with them. You don't abuse them to push advertising. You don't abuse them to push unwanted upgrades. You don't override them to make patches that were manually disabled reappear. You don't override them to push activation or DRM "updates" against the express corporate configuration.

              Microsoft has done all of these.

              Microsoft has violated the sanctity of their own patching systems and with it utterly ruined the trust any of us should have in those very systems. It does not matter whether or not Microsoft claim that you can control Windows patching using WSUS, System Center or anything else. Microsoft's word cannot be trusted in this regard and so the entire patching system cannot be trusted. As a result, Windows cannot be trusted for mission critical - especially life critical - tasks. Full stop.

              You might trust them. You, personally. But the result of that isn't that Microsoft is trustworthy. It is that I will never trust any network where you have had input.

              There are plenty of places where Microsoft's shenanigans and tomfoolery are perfectly fine. The systems don't perform roles where trust needs be an absolute. This is not one of those use cases.

              "iPads are fine devices"

              Actually, I hate them and think they're wretched. But that doesn't mean they aren't the best input device for the specific use case described here.

              And for the record, I am presuming that they are not actually controlling the plane in any fashion, but merely passing inputs back to a computer stored elsewhere in the plane. One which doesn't have any other input device, because the plane was probably made 20+ years ago, overhauled several times, and there physically isn't any more room in that cockpit to put more keyboards and monitors. iPads, however, are self-contained keyboards and monitors and can be slipped in between the pages of a flight manual.

              I'm also guessing the use the iPad for more types of input to different onboard systems beyond simply this one computer system. Hence the need for a device which lasts the entire flight.

              1. Sandtitz Silver badge

                Re: Using toys as tools... @Pott

                "No. Windows can be configured to patch and reboot on schedule."

                ''No. It can't.''

                Yes. It can. Provide proof if you want to be taken seriously.

                "I wouldn't trust them under normal circumstances. I absofuckinglutely won't when lives depend on it."

                You're implying that instead you trust Apple in a life-and-death situation. That's beyond stupid. And this even isn't a critical system.

                "Hence the need for a device which lasts the entire flight."

                Except that the device doesn't last the entire flight as you've been told.

                "Do you need pictures? In crayon perhaps?"

                Try not to insult at first.

                1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                  Re: Using toys as tools... @Pott

                  "Yes. It can. Provide proof if you want to be taken seriously."

                  The proof is in Windows' own history. Even on systems configured with WSUS or System Center it has installed patches against the express configurations of administrators. I've seen this myself and there have been plenty of similar complaints to litter the net. Google is your friend.

                  In addition, Microsoft has very clearly and publicly violated the sanctity of the update process for non-enterprise versions of Windows. Repeatedly. And done so against the express configurations of users. The number of times that you need to "hide" Windows 10 patches (because some other patch unhides them and they then reinstall in the next go) is insane. For that matter, downloading and installing an entire operating system against your will is not cool. Doubly so over mobile connections.

                  A company that does these things can't be trusted to provide a patch system that installs what you want and only what you want and does so only on a schedule you provide.

                  And for the record "installing only what you want" is far more important than when it installs. If it installs things you haven't vetted and are 100% certain work you're hosed.

                  "You're implying that instead you trust Apple in a life-and-death situation. That's beyond stupid. And this even isn't a critical system."

                  No, you don't actually read entire posts. I am saying, and have said multiple times, that the iPad is the best of a bunch of terrible choices, and that I trust them far more than Microsoft. Trusting Microsoft ever is beyond stupid.

                  "Except that the device doesn't last the entire flight as you've been told."

                  Except that it does. We've been told by a pilot that these devices are used for more thank just initial input. Thanks, but go fuck yourself.

                  "Try not to insult at first."

                  Why not? You have no issues with it. Or are you just aiming for claiming some moral high ground because you have nothing to offer except your own personal (and misplaced) trust of Microsoft? Brand tribalism is a piss-poor reason to choose technology.

                  1. BillG Silver badge
                    Stop

                    Re: Using toys as tools... @Pott

                    Trevor wrote:

                    Brand tribalism is a piss-poor reason to choose technology.

                    Pot. Kettle. Black.

                    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                      Re: Using toys as tools... @Pott

                      @BillG

                      Where am I evidencing brand tribalism, hmm? "iPad is the least worst amongst a bunch of options that are kind of all crap" is a hell of a long way from "Surface is trustworthy because Microsoft says it is and I trust them despite all the times they've broken their word".

              2. DanceMan

                Re: physically isn't any more room in that cockpit to put more keyboards and monitors..

                Changes of that sort might well require re-certification, not a quick or easy process.

          2. hplasm Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Using toys as tools...

            "Windows is not suitable for any application where trust in the operating system or the company supplying that operating system is required."

            Even MS themselves say this in the quasilegal blurb of the EULA...

            1. Sandtitz Silver badge
              Thumb Down

              Re: Using toys as tools... @hplasm

              "Even MS themselves say this in the quasilegal blurb of the EULA..."

              Please don't troll. Apple is parroting the same lines in their EULA:

              7.5 YOU FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE iOS SOFTWARE AND SERVICES ARE NOT INTENDED OR SUITABLE FOR USE IN SITUATIONS OR ENVIRONMENTS WHERE THE FAILURE OR TIME DELAYS OF, OR ERRORS OR INACCURACIES IN, THE CONTENT, DATA OR INFORMATION PROVIDED BY THE iOS SOFTWARE OR SERVICES COULD LEAD TO DEATH, PERSONAL INJURY, OR SEVERE PHYSICAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION THE OPERATION OF NUCLEAR FACILITIES, AIRCRAFT NAVIGATION OR COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL, LIFE SUPPORT OR WEAPONS SYSTEMS.

              1. Tom 13

                @Sandtitz

                I'd say the Apple blurbage is a fair bit more limited than the MS one. MS just flat out says you can't trust us at all.

                Not that I really trust either megacorp, just looking at what they claim about themselves.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Using toys as tools...

            "1. Surface 3 will not last the legnth of all flights."

            Neither will any ipad. Luckily planes have power available.

            1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              Re: Using toys as tools...

              "Neither will any ipad. Luckily planes have power available."

              You cannot assume that. Not for mission critical gear. The power bus the sockets run on could go for any number of reasons. If the pilots are, for whatever reason, required to lock down the cabin then they may not have access to a power port to charge from. You have to design for that...at least if the devices are critical.

              It's be way the hell better for there to be non-computer backups to do everything that iPad does, however. That's the best means of dealing with power availability issues.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Using toys as tools...

                "You cannot assume that. Not for mission critical gear. "

                Well yes, I would assume they also have access to paper and pencil.

                Regardless of this, the current generation Surface 4 has about the same battery life as the vastly inferior Surface knockoff Ipad Pro (9-10 hours of continuous use)

                1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                  Re: Using toys as tools...

                  "Regardless of this, the current generation Surface 4 has about the same battery life as the vastly inferior Surface knockoff Ipad Pro (9-10 hours of continuous use)"

                  Can't speak to the iPad pro, but the wife's iPad mini gets 16 hours of continuous use. Also: the iPad isn't inferior if the purveyor of Surface can't be trusted. And since Microsoft can't be trusted, a paper bag full of shit is superior. Just sayin'.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Using toys as tools...

                    "Can't speak to the iPad pro, but the wife's iPad mini gets 16 hours of continuous use."

                    In comparable testing as per 'continuous use' for Ipad Pro and Surface (video streaming) the

                    Ipad Mini gets about 11 hours battery life. Hardly a big difference for quoting the example of such a vastly inferior product.

              2. Vic

                Re: Using toys as tools...

                You cannot assume that. Not for mission critical gear.

                Have you actually been in an aircraft cockpit?

                Vic.

        3. Steve Todd
          FAIL

          Re: Using toys as tools... @big_D

          Ignoring for a moment that the Suface Pro 3 wouldn't have had time to gain approval from the Australian aviation authorities, there is no table in an aircraft cockpit. This renders any thought of the Type Cover void, you'd be better off with a standard laptop.

          The device's primary purpose is as an eReader for aviation documentation (aircraft procedures, maps, approach and departure procedures etc), for which the iPad has proved its self in certified commercial operational use over the last four years. Your idea of what is a toy and what the airlines think of it don't match.

          1. big_D Silver badge

            Re: Using toys as tools... @big_D

            @Steve Todd, I'm not saying that the SP3 should be used over an iPad, I was just saying the points from Trevor are humbug.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Using toys as tools... @big_D

            " there is no table in an aircraft cockpit. This renders any thought of the Type Cover void"

            Surface works fine on a lap with a type cover. Although most aircraft do have tables available in the pilot area - how do you think they eat??

            "Because the Surface 3 won't run the iOS apps that the airline uses."

            There are more apps for Windows than IOS, and all the commonly used flight management ones are available.

      3. Medixstiff

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        Perhaps Trevor_Pott can explain why if Windows devices are so bad versus Apple devices, are most GPS units and scanners running Windows CE?

        1. Tim99 Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          @Medixstiff

          I suspect that most GPS units are now 'phones/tablets running Android or iOS...

        2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          @Medixstiff

          Windows and Windows CE are not remotely the same thing. I don't have problems with Windows CE, as an OS. Though, the truth is that I don't trust Microsoft enough to run mission critical stuff on anything they offer, so I still wouldn't use it. But Windows CE was a great tool in its day.

          1. petur
            FAIL

            Re: Using toys as tools...

            "Windows and Windows CE are not remotely the same thing. I don't have problems with Windows CE, as an OS"

            First part is right, but with the second one I can't agree. Windows CE is a horrible design: limited memory support, limited processes, no memory protection (!),...

        3. Richard Plinston Silver badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          > most GPS units and scanners running Windows CE?

          Your information is out of date. That may well have been true a few years ago.

          Also: just because it has a 'CE' sticker on the back does not mean it is running Windows CE.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CE_marking

        4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          "most GPS units and scanners running Windows CE?"

          I've owned 8 SatNavs over the years. I only ever took one back as "not fit for purpose". It ran on WInCE and kept crashing and/or rebooting, particularly if I was leaving a parking spot and did a 3-point turn. All the rest have Linux and other OSS licences listed in the "About" menu section.

      4. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        Firstly I would keep in mind that any essential flight equipment needs to be supplied and maintained by the airline. Using personal-use devices for essential flight procedures ia an automatic fail, whoever the supplier and whatever the device/OS. Using a pilot's personal BYOD as required flight equipment is open to all sorts of problems, whatever the device (though I concede some devices might be less so than others). If it's done properly, any such equipment would be supplied / maintained / configured by the airline and properly locked down and configured.

        Keeping that in mind, to address your points:

        1) They need a product that will last the trip, even if the charger dies.

        If they're using it as a pre-flight data input, not necessary. If needed and essential through all the flight, there should be backup, whether it's an extra charger or extra device. Manufacturer / OS is irrelevant

        2) They need a product with a rich and vibrant software ecosystem and numerous developers that are familiar with writing software for that device.

        I'm sure there are plenty of developers for both iOS and Windows

        3) They need a device that is stable, not rebooting unexpectedly, throwing random driver errors, downloading so many patches it stops working because it filled up primary storage or any of the millions of other reasons why a stock Windows device will bite the dust where an iOS device won't.

        AFAIK Windows Surface devices are pretty stable and can be set up to not auto-update, and would be so set up as a corporate device. As I pointed out in the beginning, if it's a personal device that's an automatic fail anyway.

        4) They need a device which will work with $external_device or $external_interface; in the mobile world, that always means iOS support.

        Why?

        5) They need a device that anyone can use over the course of generations without retraining.

        That's as valid for Windows as it is for iOS

        6) They especially need to never have to fear that a future update will completely change the UI, application compatibility or so forth in a radical fashion.

        Surely the important thing is that the App and/or program has a consistent interface, not so much the device?

        7) They doubly especially need to be able to trust that the device won't apply game-changing updates without permission or snuck in as "important" or "critical" updates.

        See (3)

        8) They may have security concerns that require information entered to not be scraped and sent back to the mothership. The exacting details of a plane's takeoff, landing, flight path, etc all seem like things I'd like to keep secret.

        See (3)

        Of course, there could be other reasons why iPads are the tablet of choice, my guess is first mover advantage, they started with iPads and kept on with them, the choice was already made long before a suitable Surface device existed (which does not mean that the latest Surface couldn't be used instead).

        And to reply to the previous poster asking why not use Surface if easier data entry is required and accidental input is undesirable, I'm pretty sure that keyboards and covers exist for the iPad.

        Bottom line, this has NOTHING to do with the device and EVERYTHING to do with incorrect procedures (no double-checking of the inputs) and human error.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          @ James Micallef

          First of all, nothing about iOS devices is "personal use". iOS devices are probably the most secure mobile devices currently available (though QNX might be better, Blackberry as a company is thoroughly compromised and cannot be trusted. No QNX mobiles are available without Blackberry intercepting everything.) iOS were crap for enterprise management. This is simply no longer true, and they are excellent enterprise devices for the few use cases where a mobile device is required.

          "If they're using it as a pre-flight data input, not necessary. If needed and essential through all the flight, there should be backup, whether it's an extra charger or extra device. Manufacturer / OS is irrelevant"

          How is a battery life that lasts an entire trans-pacific flight not a backup? And how do you know that even if the charger is available the electrical system/outlet/whatever will be online and able to power it? I think it makes a lot more sense to stick with the device that lasts as long as it is needed.

          "I'm sure there are plenty of developers for both iOS and Windows"

          I'm not. Not for apps that require touch input. Certainly the balance of good ones isn't on the side of Windows. Why don't you try actually hiring some and see how that goes for you. iOS developers that can make good UIs are cheep and cheerful. Windows? Not so much.

          "AFAIK Windows Surface devices are pretty stable and can be set up to not auto-update, and would be so set up as a corporate device. As I pointed out in the beginning, if it's a personal device that's an automatic fail anyway."

          Except this isn't true. Microsoft says that this is possible. Microsoft can't be trusted to tell the truth because they have broken trust by violating the sanctity of the update mechanism. You don't bet lives on a company saying "trust us". You analyze the actions of the company. And those actions say that they cannot be trusted.

          Enterprise management for iOS, however, has moved from strength to strength over the years, and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to doubt patch management processes in iOS. Doubt the patches, fine. There have been some shit patches. But Apple has kept the fail on the patch system. Microsoft hasn't. Simple as that.

          "They need a device which will work with $external_device or $external_interface; in the mobile world, that always means iOS support.

          Why?"

          Well, I'm starting from the assumption that they use this device for more than simply inputting flight data. My guess is that it is the interface to any number of computers that don't have keyboards and screens. Mostly because there physically isn't any room in the cockpit to put one for every single system, especially on jets that have been overhauled at least once, and whose computers have multiplied since the original design.

          If this is the case, then as the input device of choice it probably hooks up to various diagnostic tools and sensors. I've seen iPads used on planes as the back end for ticket readers, amongst other things. I've had people examine my passport (along with my tickets) when moved up to first class. I imagine the iPads onboard might get pressed into similar service.

          if not, hey, bonus. But "if you build it they will come". Hell, taxi cabs as festooned with any number of devices (up to and including fingerprint readers) that back on to iOS. It is not exactly a stretch of the imagination to think that some (or even many) of these items might get pressed into service in an airplane. Especially when space is at such an absolutely premium in a cockpit, and iPads (along with their accessory ecosystem) are designed to be small.

          "They need a device that anyone can use over the course of generations without retraining.

          That's as valid for Windows as it is for iOS"

          iOS hasn't gone through a bunch of radical changes in UI. Nor are those changes forced on users. Nor is there even a the barest hint of a question of a trust issue with iOS that settings to deny major upgrades will be overridden and you'll end up in the shit against your will. While it is certainly possible that Apple could change the interface dramatically in the next release, this isn't probable. That cannot be said of Microsoft. They have proven this is not something about which they care.

          "Surely the important thing is that the App and/or program has a consistent interface, not so much the device?"

          Are you using it as a single use device with only one application? In a cockpit where space is at an absolute premium? How do you get to that application? Does the thing always have it up? Boot into it? What happens if the application crashes?

          You know what? Excepting under pretty special circumstances (typically embedded systems where the critical bits are in ROM and it will, guaranteed, always boot up the same way, into your application), the device UI does actually matter.

          Now, if you want to point me at an iPad-like mobile device running an embedded OS that has all the bits required to make great touchscreen apps (including the developer and gadget ecosystems), then by all means, that's way the hell better. (Oh, QNX, what you could have been. If only Blackberry didn't sell everything we did to any government who asked.)

          But that device isn't a Surface.

          "Bottom line, this has NOTHING to do with the device and EVERYTHING to do with incorrect procedures (no double-checking of the inputs) and human error."

          Yes and no.

          It is absolutely correct that procedures exist to check this sort of data. I agree with that 100%.

          What I don't agree with is that "any device will do". There are devices that would make this fairly crappy situation worse. Devices running Windows are among them.

          The iPad and iOS isn't the perfect device. Not by a long shot. But it's the least shit of the available options for this requirement set.

          1. Vic

            Re: Using toys as tools...

            Well, I'm starting from the assumption that they use this device for more than simply inputting flight data. My guess is that it is the interface to any number of computers that don't have keyboards and screens

            Don't start from that assumption. It is incorrect. Search for a flight manual for any modern aircraft to see what *is* provided - they're available on the Intertubes...

            It is not exactly a stretch of the imagination to think that some (or even many) of these items might get pressed into service in an airplane

            Not as part of the fitted avionics. The amount of work to certify any flight equipment is extensive; anything that goes in a cockpit is well-qualified and expected to work reliably for the lifetime of the aircraft. Consumer-grade kit just doesn't meet the grade.

            There will always be a place for tools - I still carry my CRP-1 on most flights, even if I also carry a tablet running SkyDemon. But these are pilot aids only; it is the pilot's responsibility to assess the results from all of these tools and act appropriately - discarding anything he suspects to be erroneous.

            But it's the least shit of the available options for this requirement set.

            I really don't think you understand the requirements.

            Vic.

            1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              Re: Using toys as tools...

              "Not as part of the fitted avionics. The amount of work to certify any flight equipment is extensive; anything that goes in a cockpit is well-qualified and expected to work reliably for the lifetime of the aircraft. Consumer-grade kit just doesn't meet the grade."

              Well, to be fair, most commercial-grade kit doesn't meet the grade either. Not for the stuff that's properly built in. But there are lots of things in any modern cockpit that a proper commercial pilot is trained to do without, but which are used on every flight anyway that aren't fitted in. I've seen laptops used as the sole interface to multiple systems for these sorts of systems (as those systems don't have inputs and displays of their own.) My assumption at the outset was that the iPad was replacing these. The laptops in use for this purpose were never really fit for purpose to begin with.

              "There will always be a place for tools - I still carry my CRP-1 on most flights, even if I also carry a tablet running SkyDemon. But these are pilot aids only; it is the pilot's responsibility to assess the results from all of these tools and act appropriately - discarding anything he suspects to be erroneous."

              Agree 100% with the pilot's responsibility bit. Though I do question the "always a place for tools". While I haven't been in any of the larger Airbus cockpits, the larger Boeings don't leave a lot of room (not for equipment that might become a projectile and thus must be secured.) Smaller cockpits offer even less room.

              "I really don't think you understand the requirements."

              Always possible.

              "Have you actually been in an aircraft cockpit?"

              Dozens of times. For commercial cockpits at least. I've never flown a commercial craft - my experience flying is limited to some dinky little Cessnas - but at one point I very seriously considered "pilot" as a job. I gave up when I realized there physically wasn't a lot of room to do anything, and I would spend my entire career banging into everything.

              1. Vic

                Re: Using toys as tools...

                I've seen laptops used as the sole interface to multiple systems for these sorts of systems

                No you haven't.

                You have crossed over into fantasy-land. Please return to topics you know something about.

                Vic.

                1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                  Re: Using toys as tools...

                  "No you haven't.

                  You have crossed over into fantasy-land. Please return to topics you know something about."

                  Yes I have. Back in the day the laptops themselves weren't powerful enough to do much, and there were systems on the aircraft which gathered (non critical) data. The laptops were the control interface. Now that interface was mostly "select between information sources" or "filter the data to deliver me this information", but that's what they did.

                  And why would that even be a bad thing? It's just burying the extra oomph in a wall somewhere. Now, that was long enough ago that it wouldn't apply today. Your average phone has more than enough heft to do all that and more besides. It can listen to a dozen satellites, broadcasts and what-have-you and parse the data for display without breaking a sweat.

                  Wasn't always the case though. Mind you, back then, it was more of a novelty, and people still used paper books, manuals and charts a lot more.

                  1. Vic

                    Re: Using toys as tools...

                    Yes I have

                    For crying out loud, Trevor, cut out the bullshit. Earlier, you thought pilots were flying planes through their iPads.

                    What you are suggesting is nonsensical. Aircraft are not designed to have laptops plugged into them[1]. Even if you can find a diagnostic port, you're not going to get to it without stripping out quite a bit of the interior, and even then you're not going to know how to control anything through it.

                    Aircraft interiors are designed to be comparatively familiar throughout. Controls are, by and large[2], in simiar positions and do similar things. Labelling is very similar across all aircraft[3]. Instruments do the same things. No aircraft designer permits anyone to come in and plug laptops into the avionics because of the trouble that would inevitably cause.

                    Vic.

                    [1] Years ago, I did some work in avionics. Our entire processing cycle was 12.5ms. If you haven't processed all tasks in the queue in that time, the watchdog fires and blows the circuit breaker. Do you really imagine we'd put anything into that to allow remote conmtrol from a laptop?

                    [2] There is some variation with aircraft like the Airbus family using a side-stick rather than the yoke favoured by Boeing. But the operation of the control is just the same.

                    [3] We have some very old aircraft in the museum where the instrumentation is fractionally different from "normal" - it has evolved since they were built. But I teach people to fly a 1940s trainer, and the instrumentation is sufficiently similar to the aircraft I fly today that there can be no chance of misinterpreting any of it.

                    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                      Re: Using toys as tools...

                      "For crying out loud, Trevor, cut out the bullshit. Earlier, you thought pilots were flying planes through their iPads."

                      No I didn't. You're full of shit, Vic.

                      "What you are suggesting is nonsensical. Aircraft are not designed to have laptops plugged into them[1]. Even if you can find a diagnostic port, you're not going to get to it without stripping out quite a bit of the interior, and even then you're not going to know how to control anything through it."

                      Not something like an ODBII port, no. But depending on the plane there absolutely are external sensors and diagnostics that will get plugged into laptops.

                      A plane's core bits that are required to fly the thing will always be built into the plane itself. Usually with redundancies. I never argued otherwise, and in fact have argued a few times here that this is how things are properly done.

                      That said, new things are added over time to make the lives of pilots easier, or to add non-critical features. These can - and do - get piped through things like the aforementioned laptop. Let me give you some practical examples.

                      1) On a smallish aircraft that did runs up to the diamond mines the plane was refitted to carry some fairly nasty chemicals. Sensors were added to detect these chemicals and the computer that detected issues buried alongside the other computers. This computer had no primary display (other than a warning light) and no input directly. Detailed information was accessed and filtered entirely through a laptop. This was the same laptop that held mapping information, handled weather reports (which, incidentally, was actually handled by another computer buried in the plane, and merely displayed and filtered by the laptop) and also was used to receive text alerts from the local mining camps when the plane was in range. (I have no idea what the alerts were for, or how the plane received them.)

                      2) I remember a laptop being used as the interface to a new (IIRC it was a prototype and still in testing) security system for a plane. There were all sorts of sensors in the cargo hold that were beyond what was originally fitted. The thing also (for reasons I do not understand) was tied into bathroom usage. Again: the computer vacuuming up the data wasn't the laptop itself. It was merely how you got at the data in question.

                      " Do you really imagine we'd put anything into that to allow remote control from a laptop?"

                      No. I don't. I never did. In fact, I expect you'd use an analogue computer or a really hardened real time embedded digital computer. I can think of no modern commercial OS or system I'd trust to run avionics.

                      So get bent, mate. At no point did I say anyone flew a plane using a laptop. I said they were used as the primary interface to systems that were typically added after the fact. By this very definition that can't be critical to flying the plane because the bits required to fly the plane are the things that there will be controls for.

                      Adding more computers to a plane doesn't make those computers essential to flying the plane. You don't need a computer to fly most planes. (Well, not a digital computer, in any case. The need for analogue ones in some circumstances has been well proven.) Those planes that do need computers (analogue or digital) absolutely have every control you need to access and interface with those systems available without third party interface required.

                      That doesn't mean those third party systems which are used only to access "extra data" don't eventually become mission critical, in spite of themselves. Might I also suggest that as someone who flies light aircraft as a hobbyist you're more likely to do things the old fashioned way and take pride in maintaining the pen-and-paper skills?

                      A commercial pilot - especially ones who are on the "work is a pain in the ass" side of the spectrum might come to rely on the theoretically non-critical third party tools too much making them more mission critical than originally designed. Which is something that anyone doing IT design needs to account for.

                      1. Vic

                        Re: Using toys as tools...

                        You're full of shit, Vic.

                        One of us is. I leave it to the peanut gallery to determine which. Pssst! I'm a pilot.

                        So get bent, mate

                        As a rule, I try never to become "mates" with bullshit artists. That sorta discounts you...

                        Vic.

                        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                          Re: Using toys as tools...

                          @Vic

                          Being a pilot doesn't seem to have gifted you with reading comprehension. Pity.

                          That said, I wish I was a "bullshit artist". I've met a few. Those who are good enough to properly earn the title "artist" seem to be quite wealthy. I think I'd rather like being that wealthy.

                          Unfortunately, you see, I'm really not all that clever. I learned a long time ago that telling lies means you have to track those lies. It makes life terribly complicated. With my ADD that's a really bad plan. So I tend to stick to the truth as much as possible. For varying values of truth, of course. Human memory, for example, is highly fallible. See: eyewitness testimony. But as a general rule, I tell the truth as I see it. Makes life easier, albeit rather less affluent.

                          I am happy to leave my veracity up to individuals capable of actual reading comprehension. They'll be perfectly able to see that while I may have been wrong about some details of how iPads are current used. (I assumed they were used for slightly more tasks than they currently are, based on how I have seen laptops used in various situations in aircraft before.) I did state my assumptions in various posts, along with the history behind the rationale for those assumptions, but at no point did I lie about anything.

                          Within the context of those assumptions - that the devices perform tasks which are technically non critical to flying, because backup procedures or skills should theoretically exist to compensate - I stand by my original assessment of why the Surface is not a good choice. Mostly because even if device is filling a technically non-critical role, lazy or overworked pilots absolutely can become dependent on that device anyways. It behooves the IT nerds then to presume criticality and pick the least worst option available.

                          Unfortunately for me, bullshit artistry isn't something that is easily learned. I don't think I'll be a millionaire on the back of my ability to bamboozle. Fortunately, reading comprehension is something that can be taught fairly easily, so there's hope for one of us.

          2. James Micallef Silver badge

            Re: Using toys as tools...

            @trevor_pott

            Thanks for the clarification, I understand at least where you are coming from with iPad being 'least worst' solution.

            As a general concept I'm still confused about this, though. The planes were generally flying fine before additional upgrades, additional computerisation etc. I would presume that any additional computer gubbins added later will have been tested to airplane-safety standards, including any interface between the plane and any external device.

            I bloody well hope that Being, Airbus etc don't just allow a tablet to connect and give control inputs, there's got to be some well-engineered spec on the aircraft side. In which case why aren't the plane manufacturers providing a custom interface (something like the center console screen on a Tesla) rather than allow tablet + apps to control their systems?

            Or are there a host of on-board computers that are developed / maintained separately by airlines or 3rd party providers that the plane manufacturers have no control over?

            The alternative is that, as some other posters mentioned above, is that the tablets are used for pre-flight checks, easy access to documentation etc. So, if the tablets are really being used only for non-critical stuff, iPad and Surface are equally good. If they are being used as control screens for critical flight computers, then neither is good enough.

            1. Vic

              Re: Using toys as tools...

              I bloody well hope that Being, Airbus etc don't just allow a tablet to connect and give control inputs

              They don't. These pilot aids do not form any part of the aircraft systems.

              Various aspects of the flight require planning - things like "how much runway am I going to need?" These can be calculated on a piece of paper - which we had to do for one of the exams. But the calculation is easier and *generally* less error-prone if you use a tool on some sort of computer. I've got several on my phone. These tools are simple calculators; they do not constitute avionics, and it is the pilot's legal responsibility to ensure that they come up with appropriate numbers.

              Vic.

              1. Tom 13

                Re: They don't. These pilot aids do not form any part

                This sounds right and certainly is the way it OUGHT to be. Just one small problem. The way the article is written, it's the safety board who are reporting the iPad was used to enter the data into a control system.

            2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

              Re: Using toys as tools...

              > iPad and Surface are equally good.

              It is likely that the airline chose the iPad, developed the applications for it, and deployed them before Microsoft noticed that people were buying these and decided they needed to get into that market.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Using toys as tools...

                "iPad and Surface are equally good."

                Surface is better in many ways - especially for business / enterprise use. Hence why Microsoft are wining out over Apple for most of these inflight deals.

            3. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              Re: Using toys as tools...

              @ James Micallef

              Well, based on some input from actual pilots for what these devices get used for, I understand better which systems they are augmenting and replacing. The short version is: no, they aren't replacing systems that are critical to flying.

              The long version is that despite them technically not being "mission critical", they in reality are mission critical. Many of the things that pilots have for decades done manually are being done on this iPad. Especially things that required a lot of maths.

              Every pilot - even the non-commercial ones - is trained to do this stuff by hand. The problem is that if you do this with the assistance of a computer often enough, the "do it by hand" is no longer second nature. And that becomes an issue, especially in stressful situations.

              In the past, this sort of thing was done by a (typically not very reliable) laptop awkwardly bolted into whatever space it would go in the cabin. It was never a good fit. And the computers that this laptop served as an interface to were not the sorts of things that controlled the plane. They provided information (maps, positioning, even weather updates, calculated course corrections,) to the pilots. I can absolutely see how an iPad is eleventeen times less awkward.

              The iPad isn't used to control the plane directly. Despite this, I can see how it easily becomes a very heavily relied-upon tool.

              So that a grey area. Properly trained pilots who maintain their skills despite having more convenient tools available to deal with the miserable stuff won't have problems if the iPad goes kablooie. That said, we live in a world where pilots aren't paid enough and work stupid hours.

              I argue neither the iPad nor the Surface are adequate for the task. Given the task to hand, however, I believe the iPad to be the least worst choice and thus the logical choice. The Surface may in fact be the worst choice (though, TBH, Android probably is the worst choice), as it is most likely to go completely fucked from an official mechanism (not an application going bonkers.)

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Goes beyond aircrafft

                Over the last couple of decades or so we've come to rely on augmented thinking.

                We rely on a bit of tech for something and stop using our heads.

                Even twenty years ago I had to prove to kids that it was possible to calculate some things quicker than it took to press the keys.

          3. Richard Plinston Silver badge

            Re: Using toys as tools...

            > And how do you know that even if the charger is available the electrical system/outlet/whatever will be online and able to power it?

            The pilots work for an airline, the airline owns the planes (or leases them) and the iPads. It is not like pilots randomly walk into unknown planes with random devices and get surprised by electricity not working.

            1. DougS Silver badge

              Typecover

              How exactly is using a Surface (or an iPad, which has had these available as third party accessories since before the Surface existed) with a typecover going to stop pilots from making typos? If it is 51 degrees and they enter 35, it is pretty hard to blame that on the method of data entry.

            2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              Re: Using toys as tools...

              " It is not like pilots randomly walk into unknown planes with random devices and get surprised by electricity not working."

              Sure it is. Faults develop in airplanes just like any other workplace. if you don't anticipate these sorts of issues on an airplane, people can die. That's why you must have contingencies for absolutely everything. Clearly you've never worked in such an environment. Too bad, there's a lot to learn about proper IT architecture by having to design for failure.

              1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

                Re: Using toys as tools...

                >> " It is not like pilots randomly walk into unknown planes with random devices and get surprised by electricity not working."

                > Sure it is.

                No. It is airline pilots walking into the airline's aircraft with the airline's certified devices. There will not only be the correct power available, but there will also be a backup for the case of a failure. If the 'electricity is not working' it will be fixed before the plane is allowed to take off.

                1. Vic

                  Re: Using toys as tools...

                  It is airline pilots walking into the airline's aircraft with the airline's certified devices.

                  I wouldn't labour the "certified" bit too much...

                  I'm not ATPL, but I do talk to them on a regular basis. FWIU, the tablets are essentially just PDF readers - they're there mostly to provide airfield plates. They'll have a few calculator-style things on - probably provided by the airline - but the apps are pretty much the same as I've got on my phone, only with the appropriate parameters for the aircraft being flown...

                  These things are about reducing the amount of crap in the cabin, nothing more...

                  Vic.

                2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                  Re: Using toys as tools...

                  "If the 'electricity is not working' it will be fixed before the plane is allowed to take off."

                  And if it fails in flight? That's the thing you need to plan for. You don't need to plan for everything going to plan. You need to plan for it going pear shaped in the least convenient way at the least convenient time.

                  Please, never design a critical system for anything, ever.

                  1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

                    Re: Using toys as tools...

                    > And if it fails in flight?

                    If all electricity fails in flight (including all backup systems) in a modern airliner, then it will not be flying much further, and not being able to recharge the iPad (which was the actual point raised) will be the least of the problems.

                    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                      Re: Using toys as tools...

                      "If all electricity fails in flight (including all backup systems) in a modern airliner, then it will not be flying much further, and not being able to recharge the iPad (which was the actual point raised) will be the least of the problems."

                      Only if all the electricity fails in flight. I imagine that, like almost every other electrical system designed, there are ways that electricity can fail to just the cockpit outlets. And there are certainly protocols where the cockpit can be ordered locked for the flight.

                      Loss of electrical power to where you might recharge your tablet does not by any means mean loss of power for flying the plane. Nor should it. That would be horrible design.

                      1. Vic

                        Re: Using toys as tools...

                        I imagine that, like almost every other electrical system designed, there are ways that electricity can fail to just the cockpit outlets.

                        There you go, imagining again...

                        The only way what you're suggesting would happen is if the wires physcally fell off the back of the socket. An overload will blow the CB - so you remove the load and reset the CB.

                        Large aircraft have a generator in each engine and another in the APU. Power can be routed from any generator to any circuit - often automatically. In the event that both engines and the APU have all failed, there is still the RAT.

                        In the event that there is so little power that the load-shedding system activates, the lack of a tablet charger is not going to matter one jot - an emergency landing is the best you can hope for.

                        Of course, you'd know this if you'd spent any time around such aircraft...

                        Vic.

        2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          >> 2) They need a product with a rich and vibrant software ecosystem and numerous developers that are familiar with writing software for that device.

          > I'm sure there are plenty of developers for both iOS and Windows

          Microsoft touch devices have been through several iterations of development styles, mostly incompatible. With phones in recent times there was WM6.5 with the devices and apps completely dumped for WP7, which were then dumped for the incompatible WP8. Now W10M has a different development system with 'Universal' apps. Windows RT was not quite the same as WP8. Tablets have gone from 'Windows for Pen Computing' through Silverlight and several others to now the new 'Universal'.

          There may be millions of 'Windows' developers, but they could all develop in many different ways, many of which are obsolete.

          1. Tom 13

            @Richard Plinston

            Yep, biggest lie I was ever told was the trainer who came in to teach us the "new" Windows 3.11 interface about the time we were migrating from WordPerfect 5.1 to 6.0. Instructor kept talking about how we'd learned a set of skills that we'd be able to use for the rest of our lives. I've lost count of how many times they've changed that skill set since then. And MS changes dev systems even faster than they change the OS interface.

      5. Dave Horn

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        I fly the A320 and use an iPad on a daily basis at work. I agree with most of the points you make but there's one big difference between the iPad and the PC...

        The iPad is completely locked down by Apple and has limited RAM. For the home user (ie browsing the web etc) this isn't a problem but when you navigate back to, say, your charting app to discover that iOS has closed it in the background to free up memory it's a PITA. Tasks that require a lot of CPU horsepower - take off performance, for example - take bloody ages on an iPad but are instantaneous on a Core i5 laptop.

        Another problem related to that is that if you have an app problem the only solution is to delete it entirely and reinstall it. You lose all the data associated with it - in my case that's 4GB of charts to be re-downloaded and all the annotations made over the last year or so wiped.

        Half the apps don't survive an iOS upgrade without glitches - at least .NET doesn't tend to break between Windows Updates. Battery life is also an issue on the iPad; generally it won't get you through more than about 2 sectors without needing a top-up and we all carry external power packs to help.

        Personally I'm not convinced that the iPad is the way to go and other airlines are starting to feel the same way, with multiple major carriers moving to the Surface 3.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          @Dave Horn

          "The iPad is completely locked down by Apple and has limited RAM"

          A big problem and a very valid complaint, depending on what's running on it.

          "Tasks that require a lot of CPU horsepower - take off performance, for example - take bloody ages on an iPad but are instantaneous on a Core i5 laptop."

          Absolutely. No questions about this. In my case I was presuming that the iPad's use was primarily as an input device for computers that simply didn't have user inputs available due to space. If you are actually trying to run real applications on the thing that need real horsepower, the iPad becomes a bad choice in a right hurry.

          "Half the apps don't survive an iOS upgrade without glitches - at least .NET doesn't tend to break between Windows Updates"

          No debate here. This is very true. The difference is that you can hold the updates on the iPad until IT has tested the patches and made absolutely sure that every single thing works fine. You simply cannot trust that a Windows device will honour this setting. It isn't about the patches breaking. It's about knowing that you have that level of control over the device. I do not trust Microsoft gives us that level of control, full stop.

          "Battery life is also an issue on the iPad; generally it won't get you through more than about 2 sectors without needing a top-up and we all carry external power packs to help."

          Battery life is better on the iPad than on anything else out there. That said, if you are running number crunching applications that are demanding enough to choke an iPad in the first place you're going to have all sorts of problems with power, no matter the platform. (In case there's a problem with the power bus or ports in the cockpit.)

          That leads to having to have a power solution that isn't charger based. Power packs are one option, but only if you can guarantee you'll handle the whole flight's worth of power like that and not give up too much valuable space. I suspect you'd need more power for the i5-based systems.

          "Personally I'm not convinced that the iPad is the way to go and other airlines are starting to feel the same way, with multiple major carriers moving to the Surface 3."

          I'm not convinced the iPads are the way to go either. I personally think they're absolutely awful devices and I hate them with the burning passion of 10,000 suns. But I am absolutely convinced that Surface devices bring with them even more problems.

          What it really boils down to for me is that Microsoft can't be trusted with people's lives. Any computer can glitch, but I no longer believe that we have the control over Windows systems required to put them in mission critical positions.

          Which leaves us choosing between a bunch of shit choices and trying to decide which risks are more risky and not actually having something fit for purpose. Grand.

          I wonder if the latest Atom-based units aren't the acceptable midpoint here?

        2. Christopher Lane
          Boffin

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          @Dave_Horn

          Completely off IT topic but as a pilot maybe you can explain something to me.

          The article states the aircraft had lighter than reality weight entries and hotter than reality engines temperatures. Would the aircraft not have been more sluggish i.e. heavier and engines running less thrust? Why would the noise pitch up, wouldn't the angle of ascent been lower than usual...not higher?

          In case you haven't guessed a wanna be pilot typing this but at 45 I'm to old, fat and baldness would probably preclude me too.

          1. Vic

            Re: Using toys as tools...

            In case you haven't guessed a wanna be pilot typing this but at 45 I'm to old, fat and baldness would probably preclude me too.

            You're too old to go for ATPL unless you are very rich - although you're within the hiring age range, an airline is unlikely to want to train you all the way up for a comparatively short career. But there's nothing to stop you flying privately.

            We have a number of ATPL pilots at the club. They seem to enjoy flying light aircraft at the weekends...

            Vic.

          2. Dave Horn

            Re: Using toys as tools...

            The temperature for the engines is called the flex temp (in Airbus-land anyway) and it stems from the idea that most engine wear happens at high power settings. Engine power reduces with increasing air temperature, so the computer calculates the maximum temperature that the plane can get airborne and still meet climb gradient / obstacle clearance requirements.

            This is the assumed temperature mentioned in the report. Putting a higher figure in here tells the engines to produce less thrust. By entering speeds that are too low, there's insufficient lift to get the true weight of the aircraft off the ground at those speeds and so instead of getting airborne the plane rotates around the axis of the wheels until the tail hits the ground. (doesn't require much torque at all, most of the weight is already being taken by the wings but not quite enough to get the wheels off the deck).

        3. The First Dave

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          ".NET doesn't tend to break between Windows Updates"

          WTF?

          Which version of .NET are you referring to? And for that matter, when was the last time you came across a machine that only needed _one_ version of .NET ?

      6. TheVogon Silver badge

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        A quick search shows that of the airlines that in the last 2 years have adopted tablets - nearly every single one has gone for the Surface...amongst them Lufthansa, Austrian, Delta, ExpressJet, Emerates, Skywest and Alaska - and even BA chose Panasonic Toughpads running Windows.

        Not surprising considering that the latest Surface is more durable with Gorilla Glass 4 and a magnesium chassis, has way better performance and longer battery life under load, is more cost effective, runs a full OS with a larger pool of developers and enterprise ready applications, has more enterprise ready deployment and management tools, and wont require retraining as it runs Windows that the vast majority will already be familiar with, and the new accessories like the type cover and pen are somewhat superior to Apple's copies...

      7. Vince

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        I'd suggest you're wrong. Some of the items you've listed are issues with iOS and iPads so it negates your Apple is better than Microsoft angle. There's no "technology" issue here as such - it wouldn't matter if they had the best input device in the world, if the data input was simply wrong.

        So as much as I enjoyed your attempt to make Apple products out to be vastly superior for this, you also totally missed the real issue, which is absolutely not about technology.

        That said, you could possibly make this more of a technology thing if the input was being validated and checked against sensible limits - although as I understand it neither value was "unrealistic" in certain conditions, so you still might not find it work out for you.

      8. Patched Out

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        And if your iPad screen colors go wonky, you just have to give it 3 good taps on the back...

        http://ipadhelp.com/ipad-help-tips-tricks/problem-with-the-colors-on-your-ipad-heres-a-quick-and-easy-fix/

      9. TheGiantSmurf
        Mushroom

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        Just one concern, I had two iPads lock up, on the same day. Access to all applications ceased.

        I later worked out that it was 365 days since they had been connected to iTunes.

        This alone makes them unsuitable for mission critical applications.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          "Just one concern, I had two iPads lock up, on the same day. Access to all applications ceased.

          I later worked out that it was 365 days since they had been connected to iTunes.

          This alone makes them unsuitable for mission critical applications."

          Now that is interesting. I haven't heard of that one...though I sadly do believe it is entirely possible. Worth investigating,a t the very least. You're right, it might make iPads pretty bad for any situation where they weren't regularly returned to base for service. Of course, if simply rebooting them gets them back to what they need to be, and they don't lock up again, that might be an acceptable glitch.

          A one-time characterized event that is easily recoverable from in a short timeframe isn't the end of the world. It's the unpredictable ones over which you have no control that are the real problems.

        2. Tom 13

          Re: later worked out that it was 365

          How very, very odd. We have over 100 iPhones and iPads we support where I work. None of them is ever connected to iTunes to be configured and none of them has ever exhibited the problem you describe.

    2. big_D Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Using toys as tools...

      Maybe they should just employ bush pilots, who fly by feel and don't rely on jiggery pockery to tell them when to pull back on the yoke...

      You know, like real pilots have done for decades.

      If you rely on a machine telling you when to pull back, you lose the "feel" for what is right and wrong with the thing - this applies to other area.

      Also, why are they entering the data? Data entry is always prone to error. Don't the airports have temperature guages? And weight - you weigh in each piece of baggage and you know how much fuel has been filled in. You know the empty weight of the aircraft. Those three can be calculated automatically. Add an industrial scale on the boarding ramp and you have a fairly accurate and automatic weight calculation, with no room for typos. The flight crew would just need to double check the values.

      'Although if they select that that 747 is actually a Cessna, you would still end up with the wrong take-off weight... :-S

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        Is there not a load sensor on each wheel support? Add them all together, and lo and behold, you have the weight.

        1. The First Dave

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          Load sensors on the landing struts will give you a less precise answer than what was apparently used here.

        2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          > Is there not a load sensor on each wheel support? Add them all together, and lo and behold, you have the weight.

          It may be accurate enough to know whether the plane is on the ground or in the air, but adding together the 'readings' will not give you the 'weight' but only some figure that will be less accurate than a transposed input.

          This is because landing gear has dampers and seals that have high friction. Their design is optimized to reduce bounce and absorb changing load conditions, the antithesis of that required to measure weights.

        3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          "

          Is there not a load sensor on each wheel support?

          "

          No, there isn't

        4. Tom 13

          @Neil Barnes Re: Is there not a load sensor on each wheel support

          Not that simple. The weight distribution in the plane is as critical as the total weight. And they might have had an offsetting error elsewhere.

          It looks to me like the more significant problem was the bad temperature input. At first I thought it might be a F<-->C issue, but the numbers don't work for that. Automated input with crew signoff looks like the better way to fix that.

      2. notowenwilson

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        Sure, but when you're conducting a reduced thrust takeoff and you cock up the 'feel' and set your thrust 10% too low the penalty is running off the end of the runway and killing a sizeable percentage of your passengers, and probably yourself. We can achieve better performance than we could in the past partly because our analytical abilities are improved so we can get closer to the edge without falling in. Relying on 'feel' just means you're dependent on one person's experience rather than the combined efforts of hundreds of engineers and scientists and millions of flight hours of data.

        Once upon a time planes typically crashed because the pilot screwed up and flew it outside it's design envelope. These days the plane generally protects itself against bad piloting and instead we have pilots crashing into the ground because either they told the computer to do so (CFIT), or they didn't adequately deal with a failure of the computer (Upset Recovery). Pilots are just as necessary and just as susceptible to screwing up as they ever were. The difference between a good pilot and a bad pilot still comes down to training and innate talent, it's just that the training and talent are somewhat different than they were back in the good old days.

      3. roytrubshaw
        Linux

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        And weight - you weigh in each piece of baggage and you know how much fuel has been filled in. You know the empty weight of the aircraft. Those three can be calculated automatically. Add an industrial scale on the boarding ramp...

        Or you could just have strain gauges with transponders on the undercarriage, which would - at the very least - allow for a sanity-check of the total weight figure being entered.

      4. RPF

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        Idiot. Many are ex-bush pilots, but airline flying is a completely different thing. It's about eliminating errors and risk in order to achieve maximum safety.

        Don't think flying at 50 feet at 150 knots makes you God's gift, either; far from it. You're at least 500 knots slower than some of the best......

      5. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        On a light aircraft you generally use the same speeds and engine power whether the aircraft is carrying one pilot and minimum fuel, or is at max. all-up weight. You have a huge angle between the normal takeoff or landing attitudes and the angle at which anything other than the wheels will contact the runway, rather than the few degrees of a large airliner. Lastly, the forces on the control surfaces are small enough to allow a direct mechanical coupling between pilot and control surface, albeit often with a trim-tab or servo-tab to allow the pilot to offset some of the continuous load.

        These differences make it impossible to fly a large commercial airliner by "feel".

      6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        "And weight - you weigh in each piece of baggage and you know how much fuel has been filled in. You know the empty weight of the aircraft. Those three can be calculated automatically. Add an industrial scale on the boarding ramp and you have a fairly accurate and automatic weight calculation, with no room for typos. "

        Why overcomplicate it? At the price of a commercial passenger jet why not just put "scales" in the wheel assemblies? Trucks can do it so why not multi-million $$$ aircraft?

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Using toys as tools...

          Why overcomplicate it? At the price of a commercial passenger jet why not just put "scales" in the wheel assemblies? Trucks can do it so why not multi-million $$$ aircraft?

          Because the scales need to be legally calibrated. If you thumb several tonnes over their load limit through them on landing, they aren't going to stay well calibrated for long.

          Also an electronic scale has a legally set maximum number of weighing steps. If you are weighing in the gram area, then it won't be able to accurately read several hundred kilograms and if you are reading in the tonnes area, then changes of a few kilograms probably won't register either. Scales on the ramps would be more accurate and probably cheaper.

          1. Mudslinger

            Re: Using toys as tools...

            an electronic scale has a legally set maximum number of weighing steps. If you are weighing in the gram area, then it won't be able to accurately read several hundred kilograms and if you are reading in the tonnes area, then changes of a few kilograms probably won't register either.

            The figures originally posted suggest total load to the nearest 100kg is acceptable.. My guess is they just haven't considered this solution to be necessary

      7. Tom 13

        Re: who fly by feel

        even bush pilots don't fly by the feel any more. Too much has changed in the engineering of planes. So that section deserves a more down votes than El Reg allows one commetard to provide.

        Your points about the pilots doing the data entry by hand are valid and deserving of a single upvote.

    3. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: Using toys as tools...

      > Why can't they use a proper tool like a Surface 3 with a proper typecover?

      Because the Surface 3 won't run the iOS apps that the airline uses.

      Also the typecover is inappropriate for the particular environment. There is no desk to place the device on and Surface with keyboard attached does not work well on a lap: the weight distribution is wrong; the keyboard plus back support is too long to fit comfortably without having the keys too close; only landscape mode is available which restricts layout; the screen is too small to used as it is too far away on the end of your lap.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        Also the typecover is inappropriate for the particular environment. There is no desk to place the device on and Surface with keyboard attached does not work well on a lap

        Half true; those flight crews flying a sidestick-equipped Airbus have a very nice little table each, thank you very much!

    4. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Using toys as tools...

      A surface and iPad are BOTH consumer toys.

      I can't believe that airlines are using consumer stuff without real keyboards really designed for media browsing.

      LUNATICS!

      1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        > I can't believe that airlines are using consumer stuff without real keyboards really designed for media browsing.

        The primary function of these devices is to hold all the manuals and check lists that used to weigh many Kg as physical books in the cockpit (ie media browsing).

        They have a secondary use as doing calculations that previously was done manually with paper and pencil and was more error prone, such as checking manifests and calculating weights.

      2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        > consumer stuff without real keyboards

        The fault in the input did not arise from use of the keyboard. According to the report the weight calculation was done, as it has been for decades, using pencil and paper (notebook) and the fault was 'not carrying the 1' when adding up several figures. This incorrect figure was then entered into the iPad app.

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

      4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Using toys as tools...

        >I can't believe that airlines are using consumer stuff without real keyboards really designed for media browsing.

        Safer than the pilots doing the calculations with pen and paper long hand.

        Or have you never made an arithmetic error ?

  2. Your alien overlord - fear me

    "planes aren't designed to drag their rears along runways" - modern commercial planes maybe but pre-WW2 it was pretty much standard. And yes, early ones had actual skids rater than wheels - hense skidmarks.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      I thought part of the pre-commissioning testing for a new plane type includes dragging its arse along the runway to ensure it doesn't break off or burst into flames.

      That it should be done before every take-off is clear, but that they aren't designed to cope with the odd bang is also false.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Oops, a typo... That SHOULDN'T be done on every take-off.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No reason for downvotes for you

        You're right, airliners actually are designed to cope with a bit of overrotation and they even need to be able to accelerate through it despite the added drag into successful takeoff. Obviously a bit of maintenance is needed afterwards.

        1. Vic

          Re: No reason for downvotes for you

          Obviously a bit of maintenance is needed afterwards.

          I think it's more inspection, rather than maintenance. AIUI, most modern large aicraft have a sacrificial skid on the tail for exactly this reason.

          Vic.

      3. RPF

        V-min-unstick trials are carried out as certification, yes.

        But not for the reasons you state; it's often about flight control laws and performance.

    2. Vic

      "planes aren't designed to drag their rears along runways" - modern commercial planes maybe but pre-WW2 it was pretty much standard. And yes, early ones had actual skids rater than wheels - hense skidmarks.

      Many modern planes also have a wheel at the back - officially known as "tailwheel aircraft", but usually called "tail draggers".

      They handle somewhat differently on the ground from the more conventional "tricycle"[1] undercarriage, and require a little difference training for a tricycle pilot to cross over.

      Landing's fun :-)

      Vic.

      [1] Yes, I'm well aware that a taildragger, having 3 wheels, also constitutes a tricycle. I'm just using the standard terminology...

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        @Vic

        "

        Many modern planes also have a wheel at the back - officially known as "tailwheel aircraft", but usually called "tail draggers".

        "

        Yup - and also known as "conventional gear aircraft"

        "

        Landing's fun :-)

        "

        It certainly is - and as you are no doubt aware, is intolerant of any sloppiness. The main reason being that a taildragger has its C of G behind the mainwheels, while a tricycle gear aircraft has the C of G in front of the mainwheels (otherwise they would each tip over on the ground). Thus as a tricycle gear aircraft touches down, the C of G will cause it to pitch nose-down - which reduces the AoA and helps it stick. A taildragger OTOH will pitch nose-up when touching down (especially if a bit hard & flat), increasing its AoA and launching the aircraft back into the air unless touchdown was made very close to the stall. The mainwheels on a taildragger are however canted forwards quite a lot, so as the tail is raised the C of G moves over the mainwheels instead of being behind them - which allows the pilot to make a "wheelie" landing when necessary. (I'm a taildragger pilot).

        1. Vic

          I'm a taildragger pilot

          This is the aircraft I fly. And it's incredible fun :-)

          Vic.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Overly cautious verdict "suggests the data entry errors were inadvertent"

    Barring very rare sucides it's a good bet that the lads & lasses up the front want to get there in one piece too, so they aren't likely to deliberately screw things up.

    Anyway that ain't no transposition (exchanging a pair of digits), it's just a straight-up typo. Nothing specific to the iPad entry either - they could have got that bit all correct and then screwed up when copying the resulting speeds to the aeroplane's FMS (unless that setting is already always double-checked by the second pilot?)

  4. Steve Knox

    Why...

    ...are they manually entering measurable data?

    1. Charles Manning

      Re: Why...

      Unions.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why...

        Good to see Dyson Heydon reads El Reg.

      2. johnfbw

        Re: Why...

        you are thinking of trains, not planes

      3. RPF

        Re: Why...

        Another fuckwit comment.

        Think about it: would you want automatic (un-checked) entries to be transferred into the aircraft electronically?

    2. maffski

      Re: Why...

      How do you plan to measure the aircraft's loaded weight? And the expected ambient temperature at the engine intake on the runway during the take off run?

      Perhaps the software makers should (if they haven't already) invest in a bigger on screen keyboard for numerical input and/or require the Pilot and FO to both enter the values and agree.

      1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

        Re: Why...

        How do you plan to measure the aircraft's loaded weight? And the expected ambient temperature at the engine intake on the runway during the take off run?

        Load cells on the landing gear.

        Is the air temperature between the parking gate and runway likely to significantly vary from that at the runway? Is there a way this can be automatically downloaded from the airport data network?

    3. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Why...

      That was my first thought. Followed closely by, why doesn't the system do a sanity check on entered data? Surely, even if there's a good reason for manual entry of the take off weight, etc. the system ought to be cross checking automatically with whatever sensors and load data it has.

      So if they don't match it flashes a warning or something.

      And come to that, even a simple every day activity like creating a new password requires it to be entered twice, to make sure they match, Is that not done with critical flight data?

      1. burgers22

        Re: Why...

        My thoughts entirely, the 10,000 Kg error, about 12% is pretty large, I would have thought the software should have been able to spot a deviation of this amount, the temperature error is even larger and this could be validated against sensor reading to suggest a possible problem.

      2. Tom 13

        @Terry 6

        I wouldn't want a fully automated system with no human input. I would want an automatic measurement with required human checkoff that it was valid.

        As for the sanity check, the pilot said the numbers were within expectations given recent flights. Now, how 35 is close to 51 on temperature I don't get, even under F instead of C.

        It's always best to remember that nothing is ever foolproof because fools are so ingenious. The problem here seems to be a plethora of fools on this particular occasion.

    4. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Why...

      Perhaps an easy fix would be to add a checksum letter at the end, if it's taken from an automatically generated printout. The pilot or copilot could enter the weight + checksum letter once.

      The option to enter a weight without checksum letter would still exist, but they'd need to enter it twice.

  5. Charles Manning

    "Transposition error"

    67 vs 76 is transposition - the two digits got swapped.

    76 -> 66 isn't transposition.

  6. Mr Miser

    BYOD?

    I wonder if pilots would like it if plane manufacturers added flight calculators and manuals to built in cockpit controls and put it through the same rigorous testing everything else in the plane gets. Seems strange to need to bring your own iPad

    1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: BYOD?

      > Seems strange to need to bring your own iPad

      Why do you think that the iPad belongs to the pilot rather than being issued by the airline?

    2. Vic

      Re: BYOD?

      I wonder if pilots would like it if plane manufacturers added flight calculators and manuals to built in cockpit controls

      No, absolutely not.

      Aircraft can be expected to last a good 30-40 years. Can you imagine the hellish device they would have made 40 years ago for htis sort of thing? Flight aids are cheap and easily replaced; they do not constitute avionics.

      Vic.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: BYOD?

        > Can you imagine the hellish device they would have made 40 years ago for htis sort of thing

        A knob to enter the mass, another knob to enter the temperature and another to enter the fuel load.

        It's not like they would have to use punch cards

  7. Richard Plinston Silver badge

    > ...are they manually entering measurable data?

    The gross weight of the aircraft is not 'measurable', or is not easily measurable within normal operational procedures. It is calculated from empty weight + fuel load + ( passengers * set estimate ) + freight (which may be measured for charging purposes) + other stuff.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes it is

      Of course it's easily measurable. Strain gauges in the appropriate landing gear members will do the trick. The more worrying thing is that, until now, it wasn't policy to crosscheck these figures when feeding them into the iThing. Talk about leaving the low hanging fruit to rot while the stable door is left open.

      1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

        Re: Yes it is

        > Of course it's easily measurable. Strain gauges in the appropriate landing gear members will do the trick.

        These do not work as well as you assert. The landing gear requires dampers to prevent bouncing when taxying or landing. These work by friction and thus affect any reading that may attempt to be taken.

        Actual weighing cells, such as those placed under wheels, can only give an accurate result by being as friction free as possible.

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: Yes it is

          The landing gear requires dampers to prevent bouncing when taxying or landing. These work by friction and thus affect any reading that may attempt to be taken.

          That would surely affect dynamic measurements while the plane is taxiing, but a static measure of weight while the plane is sitting at the gate should not be affected by friction in moving parts. It may not be accurate to the kg, but I'd be surprised if it couldn't be sufficiently accurate to notice the difference between 66 and 76 tonnes.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Yes it is

            "[...] but a static measure of weight while the plane is sitting at the gate should not be affected by friction in moving parts."

            This suggestion came up earlier this year in El Reg - and someone pointed out the flaw. The "lift" due to the effect of any wind on the wings of a static plane will be appear to reduce its current measured weight significantly.

            1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

              How to weigh a plane before take-off

              Perhaps a set of scales at the waiting area before they get on the runway?

              I'm sure there are plenty of difficulties to overcome with that idea, but Shirley not insurmountable?

              1. captain_solo

                Re: How to weigh a plane before take-off

                Same problem with wind possibly affecting the gound measured weight - BTW, I am serious, and don't call me Shirley

          2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

            Re: Yes it is

            > but a static measure of weight while the plane is sitting at the gate should not be affected by friction in moving parts

            You have not heard of 'static friction' then ?

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friction#Static_friction

            1. Tom 13

              Re: You have not heard of 'static friction' then ?

              Static Friction is static and known, therefore you should be able to adjust for it.

              Your point on the aerodynamic surfaces stands. Obvious mitigation there is a shed to block wind, but that doesn't seem practical. This also invalidates most scale solutions including the one I suggested above.

              1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

                Re: You have not heard of 'static friction' then ?

                > Static Friction is static and known, therefore you should be able to adjust for it.

                No it isn't. A typical undercarriage leg has a hydraulic ram with the plane at one end and the wheel at the other. Seals, linkages and dampers provide friction - both dynamic and static. As the weight on the leg changes, due to loading, unloading or to the effects of wind or other, the static friction will resist movement of the ram in _either_ direction. Or it maybe that sometimes the ram is actually in the appropriate position for the weight and there is zero static friction at that time.

                The indicated weight may be plus maximum static friction, or minus maximum static friction or anywhere in between.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Yes it is

            Well I once had to weigh a light aircraft - calibrated and certified scales, in a close hangar. It was seriously hard to get to +- 5 to 10% repeatability between measurements, and that wasn't taking the scales and banging them in to a runway 4 times a day.

            You have to think the odds - Option 1. Scale is right pilot is wrong - Option 2. Scale is wrong and pilot believes scale. So pilots are trained to never believe a fuel gauge - you calculate fuel burn, and use that, and if fuel burn says empty and gauge says full you believe the burn. If burn says full and gauge says empty you stop and check!

            1. Vic

              Re: Yes it is

              So pilots are trained to never believe a fuel gauge - you calculate fuel burn, and use that, and if fuel burn says empty and gauge says full you believe the burn. If burn says full and gauge says empty you stop and check!

              Martin Withers was talking to us about the Black Buck mission he flew. The bulk of the job was refuelling - lots and lots of refuelling.

              On one fuel stop, the lights flashed at him much earlier than he expected. The rules are clear - when the tanker flashes its lights, you disconnect, so he did. He had significantly less fuel aboard than planned.

              He flew on, right down through the point where the gauges were showing empty. They'd been on emtpy for 15 minutes. He had briefed the crew on abandoning the aircraft - which isn't easy for the back-room boys in a Vulcan; they have to clamber out through the belly hatch. There is a 50% fatality rate for crews that have tried.

              And then he popped out into a clearing in the cloud - where a Victor tanker was loitering. Lucky, lucky bastard :-)

              Vic.

        2. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: Yes it is

          The landing gear requires dampers to prevent bouncing when taxying or landing.

          Strain gauges as well as load cells measure weight, or rather force, by measuring stretch or compression of a rigid member, usually by having a resistive element tacked against it or incorporated into it. Given the material the member is made of and its construction, one can calculate the variation in length per unit of force, and thus the variation in resistance of the element. Some computery bit can then convert that variation in resistance into Norrises, and from there into Jubs.

          Measuring compression of a shock damper is not quite the right way to go about this, although it can be done via the damper's internal pressure.

          Anyway, as mentioned, the lift from wind, even when stationary, will spoil those measurements quite a bit.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Unhappy

      + ( passengers * set estimate )

      Ah yes, if your bag weighs 25kg instead of 23kg the airlines are happy to screw you for $100s of excess bagagge charges, yet the 400+ passengers are all assumed to weigh 75kg each. Accuracy is clearly so important.

    3. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Bollocks

      empty weight (known constant) + fuel load (known, measured and in electronic form ) + ( passengers * set estimate which the pilot can only know because the system already does ) + freight (which may be measured for charging purposes) + other stuff ( which someone has to measure or not even the pilot can know it)

    4. Vic

      The gross weight of the aircraft is not 'measurable'

      There has been some work on putting strain gauges into the landing gear. From what I've read - I don't fly this sort of aircraft - there is an issue with whether they can get readings that are sufficiently accurate[1] for real calculations. Most of the documentation I've found seems to be about producing an reliable Weight-on-Wheels system[2].

      Vic.

      [1] Aircraft have large aerodynamic surfaces on them. Even a fairly gentle wind can generate enough lift to make the readings useless.

      [2] WoW systems can produce their own difficulties. Numerous pilots have relied on the system to make the gear lift automatically on takeoff by preselecting the "up" position and relying on gear weight to prevent the raise. And then they hit a bump on takeoff...

      There's also a graphic display of how WoW can screw up an Airbus landing. The FO flying was completely exonerated for that; the flight manuals were updated to describe that the plane doesn't do what many people expected it to...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Aircraft have large aerodynamic surfaces on them. Even a fairly gentle wind can generate enough lift to make the readings useless.

        A solution there would be to measure the weight, then make a change to the aerodynamic surface, such as lowering the flaps and re-measure. By measuring the difference in apparent weight, and knowing the design parameters for the altered surface, the effect of the aerodynamic surface on the weight for the current conditions can be calculated, and the weight corrected.

        1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

          > the effect of the aerodynamic surface on the weight for the current conditions can be calculated,

          You are obviously not a sailor or a glider pilot. If you were then you would know that wind never does what you would want it to do. Changes in speed and direction are generally unpredictable, especially where there are buildings (terminals, hangers, control towers, ..) and other vehicles that have devices designed to move air around in great quantities (propellers, jet engines).

          In addition, the buffeting of the wind could change the static friction in the system from acting in one direction to the other and the expected change in loading could actually show the reverse.

    5. Tom 13

      @Richard Plinston

      I defer to you on what is done. But I think it ought to be possible to easily get an actual weight on the plane.

      Most direct method would seem to be to have the appropriate scale built under the tarmac and the plane has to stop on it after the passengers and cargo are loaded but before takeoff. Police do it all the time for tractor trailers. Might be a difference in magnitude, but it seems like the basic design ought to be similar.

      Yes, I'd want the ballpark figure from the calculation you listed as a sanity check against the scale. And yeah I know, yet another huge costs that would make aviation even that much more expensive. So I'm willing to have an actual engineer do the cost-risk analysis.

  8. Michael Thibault

    JAL 123 didn't end with explosive decompression. Loss of the vertical stabiliser, attributed to a shoddy repair necessitated by a prior tail-strike, made the plane 'flyable' but not controllable. The pilots, having no training for the particular unforeseen, partial loss of control surfaces, spent considerable time trying to return the aircraft to the point of origin, but ultimately lost that struggle. The aircraft, IIRC, rolled over in mid-air and crashed into a mountainside.

    (Hindsight suggests that, under the extreme circumstances, it would probably have been better to avoid all attempts to turn, shed the fuel, and put the aircraft down on the nearest horizontal surface.)

    1. Simon Sharwood, Reg APAC Editor (Written by Reg staff)

      Not saying Wikipedia is correct, but it says the decompression caused the stabiliser to fall off

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Airlines_Flight_123

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Aviation-safety.net says

        Twelve minutes later, while climbing through 23900 feet at a speed of 300 knots, an unusual vibration occurred. An impact force raised the nose of the aircraft and control problems were experienced. A decompression had occurred and the crew got indications of problems with the R5 door. In fact, the rear pressure bulkhead had ruptured, causing serious damage to the rear of the plane. A portion of its vertical fin, measuring 5 m together with the section of the tailcone containing the auxiliary power unit (APU) were ripped off the plane. Due to the damage, the hydraulic pressure dropped and ailerons, elevators and yaw damper became inoperative. Controlling the plane was very difficult as the airplane experienced dutch rolls and phugoid oscillations (unusual movement in which altitude and speed change significantly in a 20-100 seconds cycle without change of angle of attack).

        They usually base their entries on official accident reports, and link to them. They also tend to link to FAA and manufacturers' directives when applicabe.

    2. Tom 64

      ...and put the aircraft down on the nearest horizontal surface...

      Not sure if you've been to Japan, but most of which is flat (not so much of it) usually has a building on it already. That would mean a water landing.

    3. notowenwilson

      No, but the beginning of the end was explosive decompression. For those who came in late the rear pressure bulkhead failed and the pressurised cabin air blew into the tail area and then up the vertical stabiliser which then blew apart. In subsequent versions they sealed the base of the vertical stabiliser to stop this sort of thing happening. The closest similar event that I can think of was UA232 (of Sioux City rolling fireball fame) which somehow managed to land (in a way) with no hydraulics at all, instead relying on engine thrust to turn and climb/dive. The pilots of that plane managed to somehow get it onto a runway (mostly) and some people walked away from it. But they still had the tail. JAL123 didn't have a tail. It's a miracle that they managed to keep it in the air as long as they did. It's even more surprising that 4 people survived. I think asking the pilots to put it down anywhere is a big ask.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        I think asking the pilots to put it down anywhere

        in a manner that might be called "controllable", for extremely tolerant definitions thereof.

        is a big ask.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        There was a problem with early DC10s where the rear cargo door could be forced shut without actually being locked securely. When the door opened in flight the decompression took out a part of the rear floor - and with it the control wires for the rear surfaces. A nasty common mode failure in the design.

        IIRC in this situation one pilot managed to steer his plane by engine differential thrust. He said that he had practised this manoeuvre in the flight simulator training.

        The JAL flight according to a comment above developed instability in the control surfaces, including ailerons. In this situation the relatively slow response to engine thrust differentials may not have been an effective counter.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          IIRC in this situation one pilot managed to steer his plane by engine differential thrust. He said that he had practised this manoeuvre in the flight simulator training.

          That must have been the Windsor incident, because the other case of the cargo door not locking properly ended rather abruptly in the forest of Ermenonville a short while later.

  9. x 7

    the ipad isn't the problem

    whats IS the problem is the old adage - "garbage in, garbage out". Whoever input the data needs a kick up the rear

    1. glen waverley
      Childcatcher

      GIGO

      Or have their arse dragged around? To match the punishment to the crime!

    2. Frederic Bloggs
      Joke

      Surely you mean "have their tail strike protectors tested"?

  10. MacroRodent Silver badge
    FAIL

    keyboards

    My experience in entering any data with iPad (or other touchscreens) has been it is much more error-prone than using a real keyboard.I would not let it be used anywhere where safety-critical data needs to be entered.

    1. Martin-73 Silver badge

      Re: keyboards

      THIS seems to be likely to be the root cause of the problem, rather than squabbles about what OS to use, and updates and yadda yadda

      1. Ben Tasker Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: keyboards

        But if they'd been using an older Windows based OS, Clippy could have popped up and said "It looks like you're trying to launch an aircraft, shall I check your figures"?

        It seems strange that it wasn't already procedure for both to check the figures first. Not entirely sure how 35 got transposed to 51 either?

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: keyboards

          Not sure how 35 transposed to 51. Because its a shit data entry system. Have you ever been in a cockpit? Light comes in from all angles and even with the best gullibility in the world an iPad (or any other tablet) would be more likely to show clouds than whatever is written on the screen.

          And not to have any form of sanity checking in the software...

          FFS dont let this crap near anything of importance.

          1. Dave Horn

            Re: keyboards

            Not sure how 35 transposed to 51.

            Depending on how the Boeing performance app is written, it could be slowing the whole OS down. You hit a few keys on the keyboard, nothing happens, you try again at which point it catches up and you enter a string of gibberish into the data field.

    2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: keyboards

      I'd agree with that; while it is fairly easy to hit the wrong key on a moving keyboard, the lack of tactile feedback from a touch control is I think a major issue with them; there is no immediate cue that you have hit a 'key' at all.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: the lack of tactile feedback

        No, it's worse than that. Because there is no tactile feel I've grown accustomed to watching while I type. I can often CLEARLY see my finger on the 5 and it picks the 4 or the 6, or worse a letter from the row below.

  11. David Roberts Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Read it back?

    Presumably such a device could say "You entered 64,000 metric tons. Is this correct?" or similar which should engage another bit of the brain to cross check.

    Unless pilots, of course, are like end users and just click "Yes" to everything whilst grumbling about the time taken.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Read it back?

      "You entered 64,000 metric tons. Is this correct?"

      At that weight it wouldn't just be the tail that was dragging along the runway!

    2. Robin Bradshaw

      Re: Read it back?

      I would hope that if you entered a weight of 64,000 tons it would pop up a warning that you are supposed to be trying to fly a plane not a battleship :)

  12. Soma

    Are Pilots checked for Dyslexia?

    This thread only brings a question. Are Pilots actually checked for Dyslexia ? I will bet not !

    It may just be the simplest of things to hide in a test, but very easy when tired to transpose Numbers and Letters, OOps! / Letters and Number or was that just numbers?

    My Day was a Pilot. He suffered badly from Dyslexia and fudged his way through the sky. ( He did survive the Battle of Britain and after, many years of flying)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are Pilots checked for Dyslexia?

      Commercial pilots sit a LOT of exams - you might scrape through with dyslexia, but I doubt it. Given the competition to work as a pilot, the airlines can afford to be picky. I guess in WW2 there might have been just a little less paperwork.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Are Pilots checked for Dyslexia?

        >I guess in WW2 there might have been just a little less paperwork.

        Get up in a crate, Perkins, pop over to Bremen, take a shufti, don’t come back.

  13. Martin
    FAIL

    This is incomprehensible.

    We are talking about a bunch of figures which need to be entered accurately to ensure the plane gets off the ground safely.

    a) The figures presumably have been calculated, and exist on some computer somewhere. Why the hell do they have to be transferred by hand into a iPad? Why can't they be transferred by some software system?

    b) Even if we assume that they have to be typed in by hand, who the HELL thought using a touch-screen rather than a keyboard was a sensible idea?

    I'm surely missing something. Surely no-one in their right minds would believe that this is a sensible and safe way of doing things.

    Would they?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is incomprehensible.

      1. Because life is complicated.

      2. Because maybe it's handy to have a portable system so that some data can be entered sitting in the briefing room, and some in the cockpit

      3. Because not every where every plane flies to has great 4G connections.

      4. Because they pay good money to smart people to take responsibility and do the calculations

      5. Because before you got to 'some computer somewhere' someone entered them, so maybe its a good idea if its the clever lass who might die if she gets it wrong who does the entry.

      6. Because clever programmers have, just occasionally, cocked up.

      7. And actually, did anyone die? No. All that happened is that Dulux got a nice order from Airbus for a can of paint.

  14. Paul IT
    Facepalm

    Weigh Station...

    Airports could implement a weigh station on the taxi route to the start of the runway and display the weight on an electronic board. This would resolve a few aircraft crashes as they has been a few episodes of Air Crash Investigation where the crew got the weight wrong and weight was a contributing factor to their plane crashing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Weigh Station...

      A nice idea but just not practical...

    2. Jan 0

      Re: Weigh Station...

      That would be a reasonably wind free weigh station, big enough to hold an airliner?

      How expensive would that be and how long would it take to open and shut the doors?

  15. GeorgeTuk

    There are more devices in the world than you fave...

    ...and some people might use the other type of device.

    Right now that's clear we can all get on with our lives.

  16. JJKing Silver badge

    Number Pad v Linear Numbers

    I wonder if having a normal keypad as opposed to the 1 to 0 numbers in a horizontal row would reduce errors like this. With that said, seeing how there are one hundred thousand of flights per day around the globe with many using some sort of EFB (Electronic Flight Bag), there really aren't many of these bum dragging take-offs due to these kind of GIGO errors.

    Emirates Flight 407 was so close to being a massive catastrophe due to the incorrect data entry error (NOTE, this was NOT an iPad issue in this case) and they were using a normal keypad. The Swiss cheese did however line up for those poor sods. Fortunately the last hole was covered.

    @Martin. Re comment b). Perhaps some tactile feedback on the touchscreen may make it feel more like a normal keyboard. ISTR that one of the Blackberry phones with a touchscreen had a tactile feedback keyboard and it made typing SMS messages a lot easier.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Grandpa radio dial

    My grandpa had this radio on his car, with an *analog* knob that you twisted to show a *digital* number on the FM tuner. BEST. INTERFACE. EVER.

    You could twist it fast to the proper number and turn slowly to find the decimal frequency. Both fast and accurate, very hard to miss the intended value.

    We are analog humans, and a nice analog interface sometimes solves problems that digital interfaces create. Just saying.

  18. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Touchscreens out, old-school keyboards with IBM style mechanical clicky action back in for the data entry win.

    I mean, seriously, how could anyone use the iPad soft keypad and think it was a good idea to use it in any time-critical, mistake-sensitive theater of operation?

  19. john devoy

    why are they having to manually enter the planes weight? surely they could have a system on the wheels that worked out how far the supports are being compressed to get the weight.

  20. PGTART

    Oh guys automate it !

    If you can measure the pressure of the wheels, then for sure one could completely automate this..

    1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: Oh guys automate it !

      > If you can measure the pressure of the wheels, then for sure one could completely automate this..

      No. 'Pressure' is force per unit of area. You would also need to measure the area that the wheels happened to cover on the ground, which is rather difficult to do. As an experiment you could change the pressure in your car's tires and then reflect on whether the car's weight has changed.

      Also, aircraft have devices (called wings) that are designed to change the amount of their weight that rests on their wheels. These work, to varying degrees, even when the plane is static and there is a wind blowing.

  21. Adze
    Joke

    Surely...

    ...it's all "To the cloud!" these days?*

    *sincere apologies if someone else has remembered this advert afore I.

  22. Alan Brown Silver badge

    At least...

    They didn't enter 22,300 pounds of fuel as 22,300kg

    tail scrapes are less embarrassing than a deadstick landing in Gimli.

  23. Deryk Barker

    What kind of error?

    Typing 76,400 instead of 66,400 is not a transposition error. That would, for example, be 64,600.

    Or were the quotes around "transposition error" sarcastic?

    In which case I invoke Poe's Law.

  24. macjules Silver badge
    WTF?

    Eh?

    Since 2003, most airlines have assumed a weight of 210 pounds for each adult passenger in summer and 215 pounds in winter - including a 20 pound cabin baggage and a 10 pound so-called 'American' allowance for the food-lovers among us. Checked bags are assumed to weigh a minimum 25 pounds each. This information is offset by the actual check on final weighed baggage and then presented to the pilot. I wasn't aware at all that this information could then be adjusted by the flight crew.

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