Inflight chose yoke-mounted iPads that are running Garmin Pilot, complete with georeferenced charts, weather, traffic, synthetic vision, and checklists. Customers and instructors use the iPads to dispatch and check in the aircraft themselves. Rental agreements and other important information are loaded on the iPads for easy reference when renters need to know about items such as fuel reimbursement and overnight procedures.
“EFBs should be standard in every cockpit,” Rossini said. “They enhance safety and really modernize non-glass aircraft. This is a great way to add value to your flight school in the eyes of your customers. It’s a significant investment, but it pays large dividends in the long run as it puts you ahead of your competitors by offering something most flight schools don't. Syllabus tracking, maintenance alerts, and more can all be integrated and make for a seamless user experience.
“The entire system has come together quite nicely and our pilots love it, but there were several obstacles to overcome along the way,” Rossini said. “The first issue I ran into was where to securely store 10 iPads while keeping them charged. After a few hours of searching online, I found this tower designed for schools or malls as a secure place to charge devices. We got in touch with the company and they enabled a back-end management system that allows us to set the PIN codes for each locker. It's a significant investment at $4,000, but the cost of replacing 10 iPads is just as much. It is also nice because we have a few extra lockers to expand into or the instructors can use them to charge their own devices between flights,” Rossini said.
Keeping the iPads powered in the airplanes was also a challenge. “Cigarette lighter chargers come loose and often aren't reliable. We needed a better solution,” Rossini said. “We ended up using Mid Continent’s True Blue Power USB chargers , which are FAA approved, and installed them underneath every panel, connected to the avionics master. Based on past experience, the standard iPhone charging cables break after repeated use, so we opted for a more heavy-duty braided nylon cables that I found on Amazon for use inside of the Fuyl Tower and airplanes.”
To protect the iPads from damage, Rossini explained, “We equipped them all with Otterbox Defender cases to make sure they would be damage-resistant, mostly waterproof, and would hold up to the daily abuse of multiple renters. We then searched for a solution for mounting the iPads that wasn’t permanent. Window-mounted suction cup mounts block the view in most aircraft, and we had cases on our iPads, so they wouldn't fit in most mounts. We went with the RAM X-Grip and yoke mount so each iPad sits just over the yoke, but leaves enough space to view all the instruments.”
Given the popularity of ForeFlight, why did Rossini and his team decide to go with Garmin Pilot? “We have a unique situation where Garmin Pilot is developed right down the road—about 10 minutes from our airport. We have trained some of their app developers in the past, so I reached out to see if they would be interested in helping us get our new idea off the ground,” Rossini said.
“They agreed, and Garmin Pilot became our EFB application of choice. ForeFlight is great, but we really like the Garmin Pilot checklist feature that allows us to sync checklists between all of our accounts,” Rossini said. “For us, the biggest benefits of electronic checklists are the cost of not having to print and laminate checklists, the ability to change checklists when needed, and to allow for a more interactive experience between the pilots and the application. We created preflight and postflight checklists that go over important safety items such as IMSAFE, notam review, TFR review, cleaning windshields, removing trash from the airplane, and other good practices to make sure our customers are always thinking about safety and taking good care of the airplanes,” he said.
Effective communication and education have been key to a successful launch. Inflight’s instructors tested the iPads and apps for a few weeks so that they were prepared to answer customers’ questions. Rossini and his team also sent out detailed emails with step-by-step instructions and put together a three-minute training video to demonstrate the key components.
“Your instructors are your best educators and they are essential to helping the company succeed when making big changes such as this. Get your instructors on board and everything else will work out,” Rossini said.
When asked about the financial investment, Rossini said, “We ended up doing a two-year contract with Verizon that allowed us to finance the monthly payments of the iPads, so we didn't have to come up with all the money up front. Remember that it takes money to make money, and investing in your school shows your customers that you have a commitment to enhancing their experience. Life is about experiences and flying is an experience in itself; but it really is the little things that people focus on that can lead them to having a great experience with you or a negative one.”
Rossini hopes that more flight schools will follow his lead. He said, “The more schools that are using EFBs, the more improvements and suggestions can be made to make the apps even better. I think the flight school market will be a whole new segment for app developers to target when it comes to EFBs.”
Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website.