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Business Aviators Embrace the iPad

Apple's iPad touch-screen tablet computer, one of today's most sought-after gadgets, is becoming a powerful tool for business aircraft pilots on the go.

Tech-savvy aviators have been impressed by the unit's high-resolution, large-format (9.7 inches measured diagonally) LED-backlit display. The iPad's battery life of up to 10 hours and its compact size and light weight (just 1.5 pounds, less than 10 inches tall, under eight inches wide and a mere half-inch thick) have been key to its growing popularity, as well. And with models starting at about $500, iPads are considerably less expensive than the laptop PCs and Class I electronic flight bags (EFBs) they are replacing.

However, it is the approximately 100 aviation "apps" (software applications) available on Apple's online iTunes store that have many pilots using the iPad to accomplish a variety of management and communication tasks while on the road. Apps range from simple programs that calculate aircraft weight and balance and center of gravity, to sophisticated packages that supply navigational charts and a wealth of weather data and radar images (including Nexrad).

The Paperless Cockpit

Other iPad apps include electronic versions of key aviation references, such as the Aeronautical Information Manual, Federal Aviation Regulations, and aviation dictionaries and encyclopedias. Still other software packages include digital logbooks, aircraft checklists and FAA test prep guides. Perhaps best of all, a growing number of leading aviation service providers, such as Jeppesen, have introduced iPad-compatible versions of their products.

Some Part 91 pilots are using chart-filled iPads as one tool in their transition to a paperless cockpit. Others are replacing their Class I EFBs with iPads loaded with a variety of aviation apps. Still others who fly with Class II or III EFBs hard-wired into their cockpits like to be able to use the portable iPad to check and review key information when away from the airplane.

Lloyd Geist, flight department manager for Jet Management Inc. of Houma, LA, was an early adopter of the paperless cockpit concept. He experienced some teething problems with his EFB. About a year ago he decided to switch over to Apple-based solutions, acquiring an iPad in June.

Geist, who flies a Beechcraft Premier 1, said, "The iPad can just about do everything I could do on a laptop." He relies on several iPad apps – including Foreflight, WingX Pro7 and Jeppesen Mobile TC – although he still carries paper backups of key aviation data. Geist says he has thrown everything he could at his new iPad, but he could not make it crash, saying it has been "100 percent reliable."

Cockpit Safety

Bonnie Cunningham, who flies for a Part 91 operator in the Midwest, said her company has bought an iPad for use on the airplane, a move she believes has made the flight deck safer than before.

"We canceled our chart subscription and have begun using Foreflight full-time," explained Cunningham. "We had been using the app and the charts side-by-side for a month, but we found the iPad is actually faster at pulling up charts. Using the iPad also enables us to have low-enroute and sectional charts at our fingertips, and we can put our course on the map.

"The iPad's search function means that the bulky aircraft training manuals, SOPs and holdover charts also are now more accessible," added Cunningham. "With the iPad, we also can easily pull up the master schedule inflight to discuss future trips with the boss. Trip sheets can be updated and e-mailed."

Jay Steve Allen, who flies a Gulfstream G550 for Central Missouri Aviation, has an EFB with chart capability built in to his airplane, but he wanted to have a portable device that he could use to access key aviation data outside the airplane, so he acquired an iPad. Allen calls the iPad "an amazing tool," noting that the unit's display and battery life are superior to that of his EFB.

Allen uses a variety of apps, including Jeppesen Mobile TC, and he has downloaded software that enables him to access ARINC Direct and With the wealth of electronic data available on his iPad, the only back-up paper documents he still carries are enroute charts.

As iPad applications proliferate, aviation users gain more experience with the tablet computer, and new functionality is added (such as the recently introduced capability for wireless printing via AirPrint software), the iPad may become the standard for mobile computing in business aviation.

Review related story: September/October 2010 online extra.