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Twenty-first century E6B

Can you use an iPad on your practical test?


Like the E6Bs and plotters—remember those?—of yesteryear, personal electronic devices have become a common tool for today’s pilots. The FAA calls them electronic flight bags (EFB), and they can serve a wide range of aviation applications including navigational charts, airport diagrams, pilot’s operating handbooks, checklists, and training manuals. They can help with performance and weight-and-balance calculations. They can even provide valuable pre- and in-flight weather information as well as GPS position and runway awareness. It’s no surprise that these devices have become so popular.

While the FAA’s knowledge test is a closed-book exam for which the use of these devices is not permitted, the practical test is not. So it’s only natural to ask, “What can I use my iPad for during the practical test?”

The FAA does permit the use of such devices for the practical test, but there are a few stipulations: The EFB cannot replace or interfere with required aircraft navigation or communication systems, chart databases must be current, and the applicant and examiner still must comply with the practical test standards. It’s not required, but having alternate resources (paper or a second EFB) should the primary device fail is highly encouraged.

Even the most traditional designated pilot examiners will have a tough time completely prohibiting the use of an iPad for the practical test. But don’t be surprised if some limitations are placed on its use. As always, the best way to find out is to ask the examiner before the test.

For example, the PTS requires that pilotage and dead reckoning navigation be demonstrated during the practical test. Don’t expect your aircraft GPS navigation system or GPS-capable EFB to operate normally for this portion of the test. On the other hand, don’t anticipate this requirement by deciding not to utilize all available tools throughout the checkride. Allow the examiner to simulate the failure of these components when the PTS requires it. Until then, use all of your available resources whenever possible, just as you would on any flight.

Most examiners appreciate observing their applicants obtaining preflight briefings, analyzing weather, conducting flight planning, filing their flight plan, and accomplishing related tasks in the way they intend to continue doing after the checkride. Thankfully, most examiners are aware that if the checkride requires substantial deviations from the way a pilot would normally operate, it is not an effective “practical” test.

Another great way to put this awesome technology potential to good use is through runway incursion avoidance capabilities. If you can demonstrate how to use your EFB effectively to enhance positional awareness to comply with ATC taxi instructions and mitigate incursion risks, it will win you many gold stars. This is a special emphasis area that will be tested. So using all of your twenty-first-century technology will be a big help.

On the downside, aviators sometimes become so captivated by EFB information that a predominately head-down environment develops. Stay alert for this insidious condition. Information and technology are indeed great tools as long as they do not interfere with accomplishing other critical tasks—such as looking out the window and mentally staying ahead of the airplane.

Every good Plan A has a Plan B, so don’t be surprised if at some point your EFB experiences a breakdown. Be prepared! Have a plan in mind for your EFB failure, and be able to transition easily to this new plan. Your best options are a secondary EFB device or conventional paper charts. EFBs are great tools, but all tools sometimes break. For more detailed information, see FAA Advisory Circular AC 91-78 (

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