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FAA plans to expand use of Apple's iPad & create its own app store

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has found that use of the iPad has improved efficiency and lowered costs, prompting the authority to expand use of Apple's touchscreen tablet, and even create its own application storefront with aviation-specific software.

About 1,100 FAA employees are currently using iPads, but that will "broadly expand" in the near future, according to AVweb (via TUAW). That's because the FAA has found that tablets are "particularly useful" for employees like mechanics and lawyers at the administration.

"The FAA currently allows employees to use iPads to read and send e-mail or documents, and does not allow the devices to be used to access FAA networks. But that is scheduled to change," the report said.

"The FAA's manager of Architecture and Applied Technology said that by 2014, the FAA plans to allow workers the choice to replace laptops with iPads."

Because the FAA's employees have found the iPad to be an invaluable tool in daily work, the administration hopes to build more specific applications to suit their needs. In addition to creating its own application store, the FAA also reportedly hopes to expand use of the iPad to trainers and students.

Last July, the FAA approved use of the iPad as an electronic flight bag for pilots. The change allows airlines to replace cumbersome 40-pound paper manuals with just Apple's touchscreen tablet.

And in December, American Airlines became the first major commercial carrier to use Apple's iPad in all phases of flight. The iPad has been used on American Airlines flights in replace of traditional paper charts.

While the FAA has approved use of the iPad among pilots and plans to expand use among its own employees, the administration is also considering relaxing rules that prohibit use of the device among passengers. Last month, the administration said it was taking a "fresh look" at the use of portable electronics on airplanes, which could potentially lead to the iPad being approved for use during takeoff and landing.