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Originally published Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 10:02 PM

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Sunday Buzz

Alaska Airlines testing iPads in cockpits

Navigational-data supplier Jeppesen, a Boeing subsidiary, makes the iPad app used by both Alaska Airlines and Executive Jet.

By Seattle Times business staff

The iPad is taking off with more than just consumers. Airline pilots could soon be using it to carry the navigational information they need instead of reams of paper charts or a cumbersome laptop.

Alaska Airlines is evaluating Apple's iPad with "a select group of pilots," says spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey. "We're hoping to hear in the next week or two" whether they'd like to go further with their testing, she adds, declining to go into details.

Last month, Executive Jet Management, a unit of NetJets that flies small chartered jets, became the first commercial operator authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to use the lightweight tablet computers as the sole source of reference info while on the runway and in the air.

Navigational-data supplier Jeppesen, a Boeing subsidiary, makes the iPad app used by both Alaska and Executive Jet.

"The pilots are absolutely in love with this device — they are clamoring to get this," says Rick Ellerbrock, Jeppesen's chief strategist for aviation.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown says Southwest is using iPads for ground operations such as maintenance, and the agency expects to hear from more airlines about taking the tablets aloft.

Rather than have pilots toting briefcases full of charts, airlines increasingly have shifted toward so-called "electronic flight bag" systems where the data are stored electronically. But that still means lugging around a laptop.

The iPad appeals because "it's so light, so thin. It's very conducive to the small amount of real estate you have on the flight deck," says Jeppesen director Tim Huegel. The company is working on an app for tablets running the Android operating system, too.

Executive Jet has its iPads strapped to a "kneeboard" secured on the pilot's upper leg with an elastic band, while "Alaska is looking to mount it in the airplane itself," Ellerbrock says. Due to possible electronic interference, the FAA must approve exactly how the device is used in the cabin.

Not surprisingly, there's concern pilots could become distracted by their carry-on gadgets — remember the Northwest Airlines pilots who overshot Minneapolis by 150 miles because they were engrossed in something on their laptop?

The FAA last April warned that "any cockpit distraction that diverts attention from required duties can constitute a safety risk, and that includes the use of personal electronic devices for activities unrelated to flight."

Things not to worry about: Airlines won't be relying on the iPad's GPS to figure out the plane's location — that's still up to the aircraft's navigational system.

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Also, tests conducted by Jeppesen confirm that if there's a sudden loss of air pressure at altitudes up to 51,000 feet, the iPad will continue working.

— Rami Grunbaum

Like college kids,

firms cohabit

to save money

Hard times spur a lot of people to get a roommate, move in with parents or downsize their accommodations. And not all of them are recent university graduates or newly unemployed.

Five small-business owners who run Mr. Handyman franchises in the Seattle metro area decided last summer to cohabit as a cost-cutting measure.

"When the recession hit, all of a sudden business began to shrink," says Glenn Berkwitt, proprietor of Mr. Handyman of Seattle.

He and three others moved into the Bellevue office of the Eastside franchisee. "It feels like college students — we've had to blend our coffee makers and furniture," and to adjust to each others' individual styles, he said.

But the shift trimmed their operating costs by about half.

"We had set up five identical systems — we had our own office staff, phones, Internet connections. And we were each our own chief cook and bottle washer," Berkwitt says. As licensed contractors focused on small construction and repair jobs, they all relied on a large number of small transactions, so there were always lots of phone calls and lots of billing to handle.

Now they've combined those functions, leaving time for each of the five to do some extra work for the group — marketing, scouting for big accounts, etc.

The group hopes to hire between 12 and 17 employees this spring, roughly doubling the work force and returning to the number they collectively employed before the recession.

Separately, another local arrangement for sharing space and resources reports some new participants. The McKinstry Innovation Center in Georgetown has added four clean-tech tenants, putting the 24,000-square-foot facility at 70 percent occupancy.

McKinstry, which has about 1,600 employees, now hosts seven early stage companies.

The latest recruits are: American Strategic Group, a Seattle-based natural-gas-development company; Everest Sciences, which makes systems for gas turbines; TreeFree Biomass Solutions, which sells a substitute for tree material in paper and other products; and Emerald Cities Seattle, which is promoting a retrofit of Seattle's building stock for energy savings.

— Rami Grunbaum

Comments? Send them

to Rami Grunbaum:

rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com

or 206-464-8541.

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