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With iPads in So Many Cockpits, Attention Turns to Finding the Right Apps

October 24, 2013

“This is one of my favorite times at NBAA’s Convention, coming together to talk about advances in mobile technology and trends in iPad use over the last year,” said Tyson Weihs, CEO of ForeFlight, and among five flight app developers on an Oct. 23 panel at NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA2013).

The session, "Aviation Apps for iPads and Smartphones," is also a favorite of attendees. No wonder, with 89 percent of EFB authorizations by the FAA in the last six months for iPads, according to Rick Ellerbrock, chief strategist for aviation at Jeppesen.

When attendees were asked to raise their hands if they’re currently using iPads on the flight deck, nearly every hand in the room went up.

While this year’s session also covered regulatory requirements for using iPads as EFBs and standard operating procedures, many operators have already put iPads into service, and are now focusing on how to get the most out of them.

A Multitude of Options

“There are thousands of aviation apps,” said Ken Wilson, president of FltPlan.com. “For anyone who’s not familiar with the different apps out there, it can be quite daunting to find the right ones for your company.”

There are many options for apps that do flight planning, navigational charts, aircraft performance, runway analysis, managing flight documents and other tasks.

Established business aviation vendors like ARINC Direct, Universal Weather & Aviation, Jeppesen and others all publish iPad flight apps. “You also have pilots who have some software development skills, and they’ll put out a weight and balance app that works just for the aircraft they fly,” said Wilson.

This means entering a search for “weather” into the Apple App store will return thousands of results. Even a search for “aviation weather” returns more than a hundred results.

Pilots often choose to install a general weather app – such The Weather Channel or Intellicast – that they use to keep passengers are aware of potential delays, as well as an aviation weather app, like ForeFlight, FltPlan.com, Universal Mobile or WingX, to use during flight planning.

The only the caveat is that the FAA has made clear pilots cannot use weather apps on the iPad for tactical purposes, “as their sole source of information for making decisions in the cockpit for deviating around weather,” said Wilson. “Meaning, you’ve got to have radar.”

While navigation in the cockpit is still the domain of panel avionics, many flight apps offer a moving map display that can enhance safety by improving situational awareness. Apps like WingX even offer synthetic vision.

“We have a high resolution terrain database of the entire U.S. and project it in 3D. With WingX’s split screen you can have an IFR moving map on one side and synthetic vision on the other side,” said Hilton Goldstein of Hilton Software. “This way of viewing obstacles, even through the clouds, can really add safety to your flying.”

The Future of iPads

The panelists concluded by offering a glimpse into what their apps would enable iPads to do in the future.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if you did a flight plan on your tablet, and you get in the airplane, and your flight management system is already programmed?” asked Bill Stone, avionics product manager at Garmin, hinting that someday panel avionics might be able to transfer flight plans with iPads, as well as sharing position data and weather with iPads.

“One of the things I see happening is more real-time distribution of charting and NOTAM information by government agencies,” said Weihs. “In the future, an airport manager should be able to click on a runway, indicate it’s out of service, have that change distributed out to a database, where the visual elements on in-app iPad charts are connected to that database and updated live, in real-time.”

NBAA2013 Mobile App

The official NBAA2013 mobile app is available for the iPad, iPhone and Android smartphones. The app includes presentations from many NBAA2013 education sessions, including the Aviation Apps for iPads & Smartphones session. Download the NBAA2013 app.