The iPad has made another giant leap — try 30,000 feet — into the field. The Federal Aviation Administration last week approved the in-flight use of iPads as navigational aids in a test project at Executive Jet Management (a division of NetJets), a move that likely opens the cockpit door for other carriers, both commercial and private, to follow suit.

Just as ship captains still carry paper marine charts on board despite having the latest GPS technology and other navigation equipment, pilots at major carriers even in 2011 — such as American Airlines and Delta — still rely exclusively on paper. Others, according to a Bloomberg report,  use what’s known as an electronic “flight bag” — bulky computers loaded with electronic maps that weigh up to 18 lbs. and can cost $10,000.

Though the FAA’s approval for the iPad applies only to Executive Jet, other commercial carriers will likely seek the same authorization. After all, it was Jeppesen, a Boeing Co. map and accessory business, that designed and built the apps that Executive Jet will be using. And Jeppesen’s drive to develop the iPad navigation software was motivated by pilots who already use the iPad outside of the cockpit.

There are other variations out there as well: Arkansas-based distributor of lightweight bush and tailwheel aircraft has even outfitted its Savage iCub model with an iPad as the glass display panel. Docked front and center on the instrument panel, the iPad comes equipped with a variety of navigational and topographical apps, provides moving maps and offers weather and flight planning services. Even flight schools, like Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., are integrating tablet devices into their training courses.

“For the guys my age, they’ll use an iPad for sure, but there will be that little niggling fear in the background that something is going to happen,” Tim Brady, 71, dean of aviation, told Bloomberg. “That’s just being old-fashioned I guess.”

Though piloting isn’t exactly a form of field service, the FAA’s nod of approval is just another sign that it may be time to put down the paper and pencil and pick up an iPad.

More on the iPad in field service on The SmartVan.

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ABOUT Sara Suddes

San Francisco-based contributor Sara Suddes writes frequently about small business, the economy and technology.