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Originally published Monday, September 30, 2013 at 7:09 PM

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Delta picks Microsoft Surface 2 for pilot tablets

Pilots will use the tablet apps to access flight and weather information.The tablets will also have charts, navigational aids and checklists that replace the paper manuals and documents formerly in pilots’ flight bags.

Seattle Times technology reporter

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Delta Air Lines, which earlier equipped its 19,000 flight attendants with Nokia Lumia 820 handsets, is now going to give Microsoft’s Surface 2 tablets to its 11,000 pilots.

Pilots will use the tablets to access flight and weather information through apps such as FliteDeck Pro and the Weather app.

The tablets will also have stored in them charts, navigational aids and checklists that replace the paper manuals and documents formerly in the pilots’ flight bags, according to the company.

Replacing the pilots’ traditional 38-pound flight bags with the much lighter tablets is expected to save the airline some $13 million a year in fuel usage and other costs, according to Delta and Microsoft.

The airline may also create its own apps, and put its operations manuals on the device, said Brian Hall, a general manager with Microsoft’s Surface team.

Delta still needs approval from the FAA to allow the pilots to use the tablets during all phases of flights — something the airline expects to happen next year, according to the news release from Microsoft and Delta.

Other airlines, including American and United, have been buying Apple’s iPad for its pilots.

Delta plans to test the tablets on its Boeing 757s and 767s, which are flown by the same group of pilots.

FAA approval for use of the tablets on all fleet types isn’t expected until the end of 2014.

While Microsoft has focused on marketing Surface RT — the Surface 2’s predecessor, which did not sell well — as a consumer device, it seems to be taking a broader approach to the Surface 2 marketing.

Delta’s decision to go with Surface 2 for its pilots, Hall said, is “an important signal that Surface is a great tablet for businesses.”

The airline likely chose the Surface 2, which runs on a variant of Microsoft Windows 8.1 specifically designed for power-sipping ARM-based chips, over the more powerful Surface Pro 2 because it’s less expensive while able to do the necessary tasks, Hall said.

Microsoft is positioning Surface Pro 2 as a laptop replacement, and Surface 2 as a straight tablet with some laptop capabilities.

“For anyone who doesn’t need legacy Windows support, Surface 2 is really the best option now,” Hall said.

Both Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 are to launch Oct. 22.

One reason Delta picked a Microsoft device was that it’s easier to give pilots separate sections for company and personal use, said Steve Dickson, Delta’s senior vice president for flight operations.

Pilots will be able to install personal software and keep their own items such as photos on the personal section of the devices, while another portion will be dedicated to Delta’s software, Dickson said.

“We trust them to manage that side of the device,” Dickson said.

Another reason for picking the Surface tablet is that Delta’s training software runs on the same Windows operating system as the tablets, reducing the need to redo that software for another device, Dickson said.

Delta has already done a test program where pilots could bring their own devices, including iPads.

In August, Delta said its flight attendants will get Windows phones to process in-flight sales of food, better seats and other items.

Microsoft announced last week that it is updating its tablet line, which includes the Surface 2s that Delta is buying.

The Surface 2 is the cheaper of the two versions, retailing at a starting price of $449 for the 32GB version.

Dickson declined to say how much Delta is paying.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this story.

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