It seems a simple solution – using consumer electronic devices such as iPads and other tablet computers to replace the heavy paper flight manuals, maps and charts that pilots are required to carry.

In aviation, these moves are rarely simple, however, as safety requirements and reliability tests require a thorough process to determine suitability for use of these devices on the flight deck. Once they were approved, airlines have been quick to pick up on the opportunities provided by the technology.

Aside from allowing pilots to update their manuals faster and more easily, file flightplans and manage schedule changes and weather disruptions, there is a significant environmental benefit. An iPad weighs as little as half a kilogram. Many pilots and flight decks routinely have to carry up to 20 kilograms worth of maps, manuals and charts. A typical paper flight plan for a Dallas to Tokyo flight could be almost nine metres long! By putting most of it on a tablet computer, airlines can save paper, save pilots from having to carry it all around and, most importantly, save fuel and CO2.

FedEx is one such airline, implementing the paperless cockpit in 2013. It found that the manuals on board each aircraft consumed 32 tonnes of paper each year across its operation and, by going paperless, 768 trees are conserved annually and nearly 3,500 tonnes of CO2 are saved.

Similar impacts have been achieved at the dozens of airlines now undertaking the transition to tablets on the flight deck: United Airlines (3,208 tonnes of CO2 saved per year); Delta (12,000 tonnes); Malaysia Airlines (720 tonnes); and Air Canada (up to 200 tonnes).