Delta doubles down on Microsoft with Surface 2 tablets for pilots

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Microsoft is celebrating another win for its mobile devices. Delta Airlines announced that it is equipping its 11,000 pilots with Surface 2 tablets to replace the traditional paper document flight bags.

A pilot’s flight bag contains flight charts, navigation tools, and other documents and information. That luggage weighs nearly 40 pounds on average. That may not sound like much, but multiplied by thousands of pilots flying thousands of flights that added weight costs the airline millions of dollars per year in increased fuel costs.

Delta is replacing traditional flight bags with Surface 2 tablets for its 11,000 pilots.

Delta is not the first airline to make the switch from a traditional document-filled flight bag to a digital version on a tablet. The United States Air Force, and United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and others have adopted the iPad as a flight bag replacement.

Delta does stand out as unique, though, for choosing the Microsoft Surface. The Surface 2 tablets will run Jeppesen’s FliteDeck Pro app, which was built for Windows 8.1. The app provides pilots with all of the research and reference materials normally found in the flight bag, with the added benefit of real-time access to relevant information as conditions change.

The Delta press release explains how some of the unique aspects of Windows 8.1 influenced the decision to go with Surface 2: “With the Windows RT 8.1 operating system, pilots will be able to open two applications side-by-side, offering, for example, the opportunity to assess weather information alongside proposed flight paths.”

This news comes a little more than a month after Delta Airlines announced that it is supplying nearly 20,000 flight attendants with Windows Phone smartphones to use for in-flight transactions, and passenger manifest information, among other things.

Not to take anything away from the Surface tablet—I think it is a very capable tablet that is far better than its reputation or anemic sales suggest—but the move by Delta seems to be more of an endorsement of platform consistency, and volume licensing with Microsoft than for the tablet itself.

That being the case, there’s a lesson there for other businesses as well. Even if you don’t have 20,000 flight attendants or 11,000 pilots to manage, it makes sense to choose mobile devices that integrate smoothly with your existing infrastructure. Windows RT 8.1 devices can be managed through Windows InTune, and provide IT admins with more control.

The introduction of Office Mobile for iOS and Android does take away some of the unique value proposition of Microsoft’s mobile devices, but there are still potential benefits for both IT admins and end users for staying Microsoft-centric. The news from Delta should make more businesses take a second look at how Microsoft mobile devices might give them an edge.

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