Pilot tech — What tech do pilots carry with them?

We’ve written about smart luggage and smart travel accessories from our experience working in the travel industry, but even I can’t match the amount of air miles clocked up by professional pilots and cabin crew!

This led to wondering, what do pilots carry with them? And, have they got any tips for tech to take with you on your trip?

We called an industry friend who flies as a commercial pilot for British Airways and asked to rummage through his flight bag to see what tech airline pilots carry with them, and why?

It was also interesting to see what the airline provide, and what tech pilots are buying themselves. I was surprised to learn that airlines provide their pilots with iPads!

what tech do pilots carry with them

A quick look

  • iPad Pro 10.5 256 GB
  • Zendure Power Bank
  • Skross MUV Series Adapter
  • Heavy Duty Tablet Case
  • Apple Pencil

what do pilots take with them British airways 747

What tech do airline pilots carry with them?

In-depth look

Tablet — iPad Pro

Airline provided: Yes

Not too many years ago pilots carried around maps. At the start of each trip, airline pilots would go and collect the maps for the routes and destinations they would be flying to over the next few days, and then at the end drop them back off to the library again.

Equally, flying manuals would be kept on the aircraft themselves, so that if pilots needed to look up a defect or read about a procedure they hadn’t performed in a while, the information was to hand.

That all changed a few years ago with the introduction of electronic flight bags and portable tablets. This now means essentially all the aircraft manuals, emergency procedures and maps are downloaded onto tablets. Now, all that pilots carry with them is an iPad.

The software is powerful and takes up a lot of room. As a result BA provides all of their pilots with iPad Pros, which must be updated before each flight to ensure that pilots have the latest revisions to their charts and manuals. The airlines do let crew use them for their own use, so pilots don’t have to carry around an extra personal device with them.


Power bank — Zendure Battery

Airline provided: Yes

Pilots need to keep the iPad available — and often displaying maps — throughout the flight. As a result, part of the strict airline certification process for transitioning from paper to tablets was to provide pilots with power banks to keep them charged up at all times.

While many newer aircraft have space to plug in iPads to keep them charged up throughout the flight — some of BA’s latest aircraft even have dedicated inbuilt tablets for charting and manuals — older aircraft don’t. So pilots rely heavily on external power banks throughout the day.

Upon joining the airline, pilots are issued a large 16,750 mAh pack by Zendure, which is enough to keep an iPad going for a whole day. Bringing your own power bank is a great idea for longer flights, or days with multiple connections, because there is always a queue for the charging sockets!


Travel Adapter — Skross MUV series

Airline provided: Yes

Travelling all over the world travel adapters are a necessity, and as expected, pilots all carry them. BA flies to over 70 countries so a reliable multi-use adapter is a must-have.

Skross are a leading brand in the world of adapters, with the Swiss patented adapter enabling charging in over 150 countries with the one device. It’s no surprise to see that this is something also provided to airline pilots.

The great thing about these multi-adapters is they have two USB ports, so that you can minimize packing, ditch the plugs, and just carry charging cables for each device. Don’t suffer in silence if you have forgotten an adapter at a hotel either. Most hotels will be happy to provide travel adapters — and some have so many left behind by guests that they will often tell you to keep the once they’ve lent you.


Tablet Case — Heavy-duty rubber iPad case

Airline provided: Yes

Something I hadn’t previous considered — how do pilots actually use their iPads during flight? In older aircraft without inbuilt tablets, where pilots use their iPads for charting as well as electronic manuals, the iPads are fitted to the windscreen using a suction device — similar to a Go-Pro.

Allegedly there are strict rules for where the device is attached because in the unlikely event the suction mount fails the airline understandably doesn’t want devices falling onto the flight controls! This is after a real accident where a pilot’s DSLR camera jammed against the sidestick causing the Airbus A330 to be put into a steep dive for over 30 seconds!

As a result of needing to fit tightly into the mounting devices, and to keep their iPads safe through daily use, an oversized protective rubber case is provided by the airline. No — we’ve asked — just like the rest of us pilots don’t get to avoid having to take out their tablets, phones and laptops at security!


Stylus — Apple Pencil

Airline provided: No

While not provided by the Airline, many pilots choose to buy a stylus or Apple Pencil for their iPads. With briefing material, charts and aircraft manuals on the tablets themselves, the ability to annotate the information and highlight relevant portions for the flight ahead is invaluable.

Pilots frequently use apps such as Airports to scribble notes on difficult airports they have visited. Some airports on the network are known for difficult or non-standard approaches, interesting taxi routes, or specific airport-only procedures.

It’s common for commercial airline pilots to rely on a combination of the knowledge in the manuals and real-world experience built up over years of operating, and apps like these, alongside a stylus, help to keep all of that knowledge in order!


Top tip — VPN subscriptions

Airline provided: No

OK, this one’s not technically found in the flight bag, but it is a top tip. I’m informed that a huge number of airline pilots subscribe to VPNs to protect their privacy over public and hotel Wi-Fi but also to get a reliable internet connection.

While we might take for granted access to the internet, in many parts of the world airline pilots travel to, this is still heavily state filtered. FaceTiming, or sending WhatsApp messages to family at home, accessing social media or even reading the news are completely prohibited.

Interestingly, unrestricted access to the internet, alongside state censorship is something that frequently is getting worse and not better. In February 2021 China even banned BBC News.

Express VPN is arguably the global leader in VPNs with 160 servers spread across 94 countries — great for travellers. As a result, many long haul pilots choose to subscribe to this service as it means they can have reliable internet access wherever they are in the world.


airline pilots in cockpit

Summary

It turns out that pilots carry around more tech for their travels from Airlines that we thought!

With further advancement towards digitalizing everything — Airlines are trying to cut down on the paper printed for each flight — pilots find themselves using tablets and iPads more and more.

Is it a matter of time before they switch from traditionally popular airline crew luggage to smart luggage to keep all their tech charged too? Only time will tell!