Surface Pro tablet: Microsoft's newest to help Delta Airlines save on fuel

Surface Pro tablet: Last week, Microsoft rolled out the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets and already has its first big customer. Delta Airlines will outfit 700 planes with Surface 2 tablets, hoping to go paperless by 2014.

George Frey/Reuters/File
A Delta Airlines Airbus A320 passenger jet taxis at the Salt Lake City international airport, in Salt Lake City, Utah, in Nov. 2012. Delta will take delivery on new Microsoft Surface Pro tablets for their aircraft fleet.

Microsoft lost big on its last Surface tablet model, but now it appears things for the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 are lifting off in a big way.

Delta Airlines announced a partnership with Microsoft to purchase 11,000 Surface 2 tablets to replace heavy pilot flight bags. Initially, this will be rolled out on 700 Boeing 757 and 767 planes, with the goal of going totally paperless by 2014.

In a blog post, Delta Senior Vice President, Captain Steve Dickinson, says the move is motivated by saving fuel costs and cutting carbon emissions. The 38-pound flight bags pilots ordinarily use are loaded down with maps, charts, checklists, and reference materials, and transferring the data to the 1.5 pound tablets will reduce fuel usage by 1.2 million gallons per year, he says. This means a 26 million pound reduction in annual emissions (like taking 2,600 cars off the road).

But it isn’t just fuel emissions that motivate Delta. In a video, Capt. Dickinson adds that the two-application screen offers pilots a way to run a static and real-time app at the same time (like navigation and weather conditions), which is ideal for the changing nature of each flight.

Delta, the no. 2 airline carrier in the country, has worked with Microsoft in the past. Currently Delta’s training software runs on Windows, and this August it announced Microsoft would outfit 19,000 flight attendants with the Nokia Lumia 820 Windows phone for in-flight services like beverages and seat assignments.

But it hasn’t always been this way. After the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved Apple iPads for cockpit use in 2011, Delta started trials with the iPad which many Delta pilots liked, according to Apple Insider. American Airlines currently uses iPads in all 8,000 of its cockpits for all-phase flight use. As of now, the Surface 2 is not cleared for all-phase flight, though Delta says they expect the FAA approval to come by next year. Despite this, Delta went ahead with the Microsoft deal. 

This news comes on the heels of Microsoft’s new tablet roll out last week. The Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 are slated to go on sale to the public in late October, the lighter Surface 2 retailing for $449 and the more technical Surface Pro 2 for $899. Delta declined to comment whether it would purchase the Surface 2 for the consumer price or a special price from Microsoft.

Microsoft ran into problems selling its last Surface model, and ended up paying $900 million for unsold merchandise. It hopes this model, with fine-tuned details and a focus on quality hardware, will fare better in an increasingly competitive tablet market.

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