October 1, 2011
By Thomas B Haines
My “aha” moment occurred while flying northeast between Baltimore and Philadelphia. With the low–altitude en route chart stretched across the cockpit I hunted furiously for the intersection ATC insisted I cross. Tracing the Victor airway, which dodged this way and that, I mumbled to myself that “there has to be a better way.” Eventually I found the intersection and confirmed on the GPS that I was headed where ATC thought I was headed. Meanwhile, I wrote on my kneeboard: “iPad!”
With the debut of the Apple iPad 2 a couple of weeks away, I waited until then to order an iPad, but since then have not looked back regarding cockpit organization and the use of charts in the cockpit.
The pace at which pilots have adopted iPads for cockpit use has surpassed any technology I can recall, including handheld GPSs and noise-canceling headsets. When each of those technologies was introduced, the pace of adoption was impressive, but not on par with the iPad revolution. A recent survey in AOPA’s daily email newsletter Aviation eBrief showed that 53 percent of readers used an iPad in the cockpit to call up charts or for en route planning. Remember that the iPad has been on the market less than 18 months. And while the eBrief surveys are not highly statistically valid, the trend is impressive (see “ Avionics: The iPad-centric Cockpit”).
At recent aviation events, iPad apps, kneeboards, Bluetooth GPSs for iPads, and other accessories have dominated announcements. At EAA AirVenture I was noshing a bratwurst (required eating at that Wisconsin show) under an umbrella when a young man sat down to share a table with me. Turns out he has created an entire business out of selling nothing but iPad accessories to pilots. His brand-new booth was one of the larger ones in one of the exhibit halls and packed with customers every time I walked by. Sporty’s Pilot Shop has launched an email newsletter dedicated to the use of iPads in the cockpit. Page after page of its latest catalog features nothing but iPad apps and accessories. Scrappy little companies such as ForeFlight and WingX have blossomed on the back of iPad. GPS giant Garmin has weighed in with an iPad version of its Pilot MyCast product. Meanwhile, Jeppesen, which pioneered paper charts and electronic navigation data, has joined the fray with its Mobile FliteDeck app.
The benefits of the iPad in the cockpit are many. The cost and weight savings by carrying electronic charts will pay for the iPad itself in less than a year for most pilots. Purchasing an annual subscription for all the charts for the entire country—high-and low-altitude en route, sectional, and terminal—generally costs less than $150 from ForeFlight, WingX, Garmin. A subscription for an equivalent number of paper charts from the government would cost nearly $2,000 a year (not including shipping).
Jeppesen doesn’t yet offer VFR charts in Flite-Deck, but will soon. For now, you can get a basic Jeppesen subscription for electronic IFR charts for less than $100.
Jeppesen will also soon be adding weather planning features that are commonplace in the other popular aviation apps. With the weather products, an iPad makes for a convenient in-cockpit tool for managing both charts and assessing weather. Some companies now offer the ability to display datalink weather via satellite on an iPad, further increasing the utility.
For me, with a panel-mount Garmin GNS 530 that includes XM Weather and the data necessary for basic navigation and flying instrument approaches, I mostly use the iPad for back- up and for finding airways and intersections along airways, since the 530 doesn’t depict airways. In case you’re wondering, for most FAR Part 91 operations involving light airplanes, there is no specific requirement to carry charts of any kind and the FAA is fine with you using “equivalent” electronic charts when they are needed (see “ Pilot Counsel: Calling for Backup,” March 2011 AOPA Pilot). When expecting instrument conditions in the terminal area, I do frequently print approach charts for my destination from AOPA Airports, but other than that I am usually paper-free in the cockpit on most flights. One bit of advice, carry paper charts with you as a backup on your first few flights with an iPad as you learn how to best use it in the cockpit. And consider getting an anti-glare screen cover to reduce reflections.
Still skeptical about the use of iPads in the cockpit? The newly combined United and Continental airline is in the midst of giving all of its pilots iPads with Jeppesen Mobile FliteDeck. Used as electronic flight bags, the iPads replace paper flight manuals and charts. In those applications, the 1.5-pound iPad replaces some 38 pounds of paper per flight bag—about 12,000 sheets. The airline predicts it will save some 16 million sheets of paper a year and some 326,000 gallons of jet fuel from the reduced weight.
I doubt my savings will be quite so dramatic, but I’m happy easily finding those rascal intersections ATC enjoys throwing my way.
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow at twitter.com/tomhaines29.
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
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