Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline and second largest overall, has announced a tie-up with Vodafone that will see the introduction of so-called Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) in cockpits enabled by iPads. This will eliminate the need for physical navigation charts and manuals, creating paperless cockpits.

The deal will also see Vodafone Ireland underpin Ryanair’s entire communications and IT infrastructure across Europe, covering network and telephony systems, ticketing, check-ins, ground crew, and in-flight crew, according to Ryanair’s press release.

Always cutting costs

Founded out of Ireland in 1985, Ryanair has emerged as one of the most recognizable airline brands in Europe, and now carries almost 90 million passengers each year. But its “no-frills” approach has courted more than a lot of controversy in recent times, garnering a reputation for awful customer service and extreme cost-cutting measures as the battle for the budget-end of the market intensifies.

Such measures include introducing non-reclining seats and no seat-back pockets, with safety cards plastered onto the backs of seats instead. The airline also no longer offers airport check-in, with all travelers required to do most of their arrangements online.

Many airlines around the world have taken to tablets to improve service and cut costs, with American Airlines rolling out Samsung Galaxy tablets back in June 2011 and United Airlines bringing in iPads shortly after. Ryanair’s move to digitize its entire in-flight operations will incur significant set-up costs in the first instance, but it’s a long-term approach that’s in line with its aggressive streamlining.

Improving inflight sales

One of Ryanair’s “calling cards” is a regular flow of sales personnel walking up and down the aisles selling everything from scratch cards to perfume and toys, and it seems this too will be optimized with the new Vodafone deal.

Whereas Ryanair would accept cash and credit card transactions before, the airline will be launching a new in-flight sales system, which presumably will involve iPads too. Contactless payments such as near field communication (NFC) would significantly speed up transactions, thus allowing for more sales during a flight. This is what Ryanair’s chief technology officer, John Hurley, was alluding to when he mentioned a “swifter inflight sales system.”

Ryanair’s shift to an EFB system mirrors its fellow budget airline’s EasyJet’s move last year, but Ryanair is looking to take the approach a step further by digitizing its entire inflight setup.

Though Ryanair’s passenger numbers have always been impressive, that in large has been down to its prices, with the actual traveling experience generally considered sub-par. But the firm has been making big moves to boost its image, introducing incremental improvements such as allocated seating, a free secondary “small carry-on bag,” and mobile boarding passes. Today’s news fits into this strategy, as the airline strives to reinvent itself for the modern digital era.