The airline has been trialling the Apple tablet as a replacement for expensive proprietary entertainment unit systems since February, with chief executive Alan Joyce recently labelling use of the tablet as an "amazing opportunity" for Qantas to cut costs and boost productivity.
The company would roll out the iPads to its entire fleet of 23 Boeing 767 planes — for a total of 5842 tablets — operating east coast routes and some Perth flights from the fourth quarter of this year after receiving "extremely positive" feedback from the trial.
The airline confirmed the iPad rollout this week, which comes in addition to a contract with Telstra to roll out 2200 of the tablets to pilots and cockpits, replacing wads of paper manuals and flight maps.
A spokeswoman for the airline would not confirm how many iPads the airline planned to roll out in total, but a source close to the deal told iTnews the contract with Telstra saw Qantas order up to 15,000 tablets in the first instance.
The order could ultimately extend to tens of thousands of the tablets as the airline extends the rollout to its entire fleet of planes over coming years.
Qantas subsidiary Jetstar had similarly deployed iPads instead of using built-in screens for in-flight entertainment.
However, unlike Jetstar's tablets which host entertainment content on the tablet itself, Qantas will stream content from a central storage unit on the plane through wireless access points deployed throughout the aircraft.
Panasonic's eXW wireless distribution system would be used to stream up to 200 hours of content to the iPads on eligible flights.
According to Australian Business Traveller, content is served from a server running two 500 GB redundant hard drives stored near the plane's cockpit.
The iPads connect and receive content from the server through one of five 802.11n wi-fi access points.
"We're now looking at ways to evolve this technology platform even further with our partner Panasonic to bring new standards of in-flight entertainment to our customers," Qantas Domestic CEO Lyell Strambi said in a statement.
Panasonic lists possible additions to the system including internet access, live television as well as airline services such as ordering food and beverages and duty-free shopping.
The airline has indicated it would allow passengers to view the content from compatible personal devices and laptops through a separate application. However, a spokeswoman did not clarify at the time of writing when this would be introduced.
Joyce said the use of iPads instead of headrest entertainment units would allow the airline to more easily and cheaply replace broken or outdated units.
"We've just spent $280 million on refitting nine [Boeing 747 aircraft] with new in-flight entertainment in seats," he said in April.
"It's a Panasonic system which is state-of-the-art, and it's great when you're on board. But in three-to-four years time, that will be out of date, and the cost involved in revamping it is huge.
"In terms of future costs, future development, it's huge ... [Mobile devices could be] a huge saving and increase in productivity for us."