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Cover Story

The Departure of Paper: The Arrival of iPads

It's almost unheard of for a consumer product to find a serious role in aviation, but the Apple iPad has done just that. It's been only a year and a half since the now-iconic tablet computer was introduced, but this is one piece of commercial, off-the-shelf hardware that has found favor in the flight bag. In fact, it has literally become the flight bag for many operators.

For the past decade and a half, laptops have slowly infiltrated cockpits, converting important data to digital format and reducing many aircraft manuals, pilot logbooks and other documents to ballast in the bottom of a Jepp bag.

But the dead weight in those well-worn flight bags consisted of essential aeronautical charts. It's estimated that charts covering the entire globe weigh 80 pounds, so it was no wonder that the electronic flight bag (EFB), a three- to five-pound computer that could store all essential aircraft documents and paper charts, emerged. And maybe more important to pilots, updates could be performed online with just a few mouse clicks.

The problem was that gaining approval for such devices involved significant time, effort and money. And EFBs often were not equal to the latest computer products in terms of battery life, capacity and screen quality.

iPad: the EFB for Everypilot

Enter the iPad, which weighs less than two pounds and features a large, high-resolution display, 10-hour battery life and is easy to use, just like other revolutionary Apple products, such as the iPhone. When introduced in April 2010, customers – and application, or "app" developers – poured in from all over the world, and from just about every industry. The availability of a variety of useful apps skyrocketed the iPad's success, particularly in aviation, since the iPad is a natural electronic flight bag.

Not only are iPads available at a fraction of the cost of EFBs or the first approved tablets, but also the software programs and chart subscriptions are priced such that even operators of light aircraft are jumping on the bandwagon. One Bonanza pilot said, "It's like getting the whole candy machine with one quarter."

NBAA Member Thomas "Stoney" Truett flies an MU-2 and a Sabre 65 for Copper Station Holdings LLC, in Walterboro, SC. He's also a flight instructor, and he's sold on the benefits of the iPad for all general aviation. He loves that students have easy access to a wealth of training videos and materials, as well as FAA publications – and for free. He notes the iPad also supplements panel avionics in business aircraft. "It seems like the iPad is exploding in the corporate arena, no matter what's in the panel. They [business pilots] all carry iPads, and it's especially useful as backup if there are two in the cockpit."

Getting FAA Approval

Mike Abbott, director of flight and air solutions for Jeppesen, said there has long been market interest in tablet EFBs, but pilots had three main objections – FAA regulations, usability and cost. The latter two are no-brainers with the easy-to-use and inexpensive iPad, but the prospect of getting the FAA to accept a consumer product had aviation experts skeptical. Abbott headed the Jeppesen team that worked with Executive Jet Aviation (EJA) to gain FAA approval for using iPad-based EFBs for EJA's Part 135 operations, so Abbott has a firm grasp of the regulatory landscape, and appreciates the FAA's open mind when it comes to iPads.

The FAA has defined three classes of EFB, along with the three classes of associated software (see sidebar). That means that an iPad can legally be used to replace paper charts under Part 91, although FAA approval is required for Part 135 and Part 91K (fractional) operators.

The FAA supports using iPads in Part 91 cockpits; however, in an Information for Operators letter, the agency cautions, "Operators transitioning to a paperless cockpit should undergo an evaluation period during which the operator should carry paper backups of the material on the EFB." Abbott recommends six months of overlap with paper charts on board.

The FAA also has issued a letter to its Flight Standards District Offices endorsing the process of approving Part 135 operators under specific guidelines. The approval for EJA does not constitute a blanket approval for all Part 135 or Part 91K operators, and each must receive individual approval.

However, the EJA/Jeppesen program to secure FAA approval for iPad use serves as a potential template for other Part 135 operators. It also includes a prudent set of best practices for Part 91 operators to follow, where appropriate.

The EJA program started with an "FAA engagement" phase – initial contact with the agency to set up an approval program. The next phase was the EFB evaluation phase – no contest there for the iPad, but due diligence dictated a comprehensive overview of competing products. Jeppesen and EJA went so far as to conduct rapid decompression testing of an iPad, which it passed. Apple recommends a safe operating temperature range of 32 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and a maximum operating altitude of 10,000 feet, although evaluators have routinely used iPads at much higher and lower temperatures and at altitudes up to the mid-teens. Naturally, a pressurized cockpit makes the altitude limits moot.

Other Features and Accessories

If it had only charts and approach plates, the iPad would still make a worthy addition to anyone's flight kit. But the variety of software packages available makes it almost indispensible. Apps include flight planning programs, weather graphics, weight-and-balance calculators, E6B computers and various other goodies.

Business aviation consultant Bill Quinn said the appeal for business aircraft operators is that they can carry more data between the airplane and the hotel, home or office, making flight preparation more efficient. When it comes to replacing paper charts with the iPad, Quinn said, "We're there."

One of the best features of the iPad is that it does literally millions of things. So pilots can use it to check e-mail, though common sense (and, no doubt, the flight department operations manual) says that Internet access in flight is verboten. In any case, 3G connectivity should be disabled when airborne.

While 3G-capable iPads incorporate an internal GPS receiver, most aircraft operators need more precise, Wide Area Augmentation System-capable external GPS receivers for geo-referencing "ship's position" on charts and plates. They cost about $100 and choices include "dongle" devices such as the Bad Elf that attach directly to the iPad and do not require their own battery, or Bluetooth devices such as the Dual XGPS150 Universal or GNS 5870, which can be placed on the glareshield, but must be recharged like the iPad.

Be wary of using geo-reference devices, however. The FAA currently frowns upon using geo-referencing with iPads, though that could change. Just remember that the iPad's primary role is that of chart presentation, and the main task of actual navigation still rests with the panel-mounted equipment.

Another sticky point is cockpit-mounting hardware for iPads. There is disagreement and some confusion over what is permissible for hard-mounting iPads and accessing ship's power for recharging. Check with your local FAA authority for the most recent information as it pertains to your particular aircraft, equipment and type of flying.

Preflighting Your iPad

Bret Koebbe, who has presented a webinar on iPad use, offers some advice on "preflighting" the iPad. First, before you takeoff, familiarize yourself with the app you plan to use in flight. Next, be sure the iPad is fully charged. The iPad wall and cigarette lighter chargers are 10 watts – specific to that unit. To access ship's power, you need an Apple charger. With 10 hours' battery life, a full charge on the ground should outlast even a long day of flying.

Koebbe suggests running every app after updates, and testing chart downloads with the Internet connection disabled. Why? Because it's possible that while on the ground, the iPad could be displaying charts online without having them uploaded to memory. Koebbe also recommends loading routes and favorites ahead of time, and checking that the chart database is current.

One of the best things about the iPad is that there is so much to learn. One of the best ways is with the iPad itself, searching online for aviation video tutorials. You're sure to find tips on how to maximize the benefits of your iPad in your flying operations, although you might have to search for a workout routine to replace the exercise you used to get from lugging around all those charts.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

A session entitled "iPads in the Cockpit" will be held on Tuesday, October 11 at NBAA's 64th Annual Meeting & Convention in Las Vegas, NV. View the full agenda at www.nbaa.org/2011.

How the FAA Defines an EFB and Associated Software

  •   Class 1 EFB is the simplest distinction. It is a commercial product that is carried on board and is "typically" stowed during critical phases of flight, though it can be used to display Class B software (charts) throughout the landing phase if properly secured.

  •   Class 2 EFB can derive data from onboard avionics. It can be connected to the airplane's power and mounted on a bracket that must be removable without tools.

  •   Class 3 EFB is considered part of the aircraft's installed equipment, (deriving data and flight performance information from panel avionics) and is subject to design approval from the aircraft manufacturer. It also must be tested for interference with onboard avionics.

  •   Class A software means documents such as aircraft operator manuals, checklists, minimum equipment lists, maintenance scheduling software, etc.

  •   Class B software includes enroute and approach charts as defined by FAA Advisory Circular AC 120-76A, Appendix B.

  •   Class C software can interface with an aircraft multifunction display, and must be run on a Class 3 EFB.

iPad Apps Aplenty

Without question, the most attractive feature of the iPad is its ability as a platform for displaying enroute and approach charts. Most of the apps that support charts also include other features such as flight planning, weather data, performance charting, E6B computers, weight-and-balance calculators and much more. Most have trial subscriptions so pilots can download several and compare them as they fly.

There are also apps for training, government documents and pilots' handbooks. Downloaded videos and interactive online courses make selfpaced learning much easier when you can pull out an iPad while sitting in a pilot lounge or at a coffee shop. One of the benefits of having so much information loaded onto an iPad is that its search function makes everything easy to find. Pilot Stoney Truett said, "We all know what we need, it's just not always easily accessible or easy to find. The iPad changes all that."

Aviation apps can be downloaded from the Apple's iTunes store at www.apple.com/iTunes. There is also a comprehensive web site on aviation apps (www.aviatorapps.com) that lists them all, along with their developers and prices.

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