AT&T extends airline ties, equips Delta pilots with 5G iPad Pros

AT&T continues to focus on the airline travel industry, this week announcing Delta Air Lines pilots are getting a 5G upgrade with the new iPad Pro.

AT&T Business, in partnership with Apple, is delivering the devices and 5G for all Delta pilot electronic flight bags (EFB). There are custom-built EFB apps on iPads that help pilots use pre-flight information delivered directly to the EFB’s, such as aircraft load and flight data.

The latest iPad Pros use Apple’s M1 chip and are an upgrade for EFBs from the earlier generation iPad Pros on AT&T, according to an AT&T spokesperson. Rollout of the new devices will start in the fourth quarter, the spokesperson told Fierce.  

RELATED: Boingo to equip 12 airports with AT&T’s mmWave 5G

Airline travel was hit hard from Covid-19 impacts starting in 2020, and carriers including AT&T saw international roaming revenues decline. But this past June Delta said it was aiming to hire more than 1,000 pilots by summer of 2022, according to Reuters, with expectations that leisure travel volumes would soon return to pre-pandemic levels.

The EFB data is used before flights take off, and AT&T pointed to 5G as speeding that along when pilots are at the gate, on their way to the airport, or located where Wi-Fi isn’t available. Delta’s also tapping AT&T Business’ IoT Global SIM and Control Center, which provides device management and troubleshooting in 200 countries.

Tuesday’s announcement is the latest between AT&T and Delta, as the airline already said it would equip all of its more than 19,000 flight attendants with the 5G-capable iPhone 12.

Both the iPhone 12 and iPad Pro also support millimeter wave bands for 5G.

RELATED: AT&T’s mmWave 5G takes off at Tampa airport

More broadly, AT&T is targeting airports for 5G service using high-band mmWave spectrum (service dubbed 5G+ by the carrier). Twenty-five major air transportation hubs are expected to have it by the end of next year. Boingo is a deployment partner at 12 airports so far, including JFK International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, Chicago O-Hare, and Midway.

Initially 5G service is focused on end-users, Boingo CEO Mike Finley told FierceWireless last month, but also measures aimed at helping visitors feel safe such as contact-less entry, and cameras to highlight spacing for social distance in lines and queues.  

Finley also cited enhancing venues like airports’ own operations, including back office.