When Apple launched the iPad a decade ago, there was an overwhelming feeling among the broader public that it was an overpriced toy, sitting in no-man’s land between a phone and a PC. In aviation that sentiment was quickly replaced with a realization that this tool would, if not change the way we fly, at least change the way we managed the cockpit.
The predictions were correct. Today many pilots think of a pre- and a post-iPad world of aviation. In those prehistoric days pilots had to carry paper, plan each flight meticulously the night before, do weight and balance with a pencil, maintain a paper logbook, and spend hours updating instrument approach plates. Today all those tasks can be handled by an electronic flight bag (the iPad is one of many EFB platforms, and by far the most popular). Having an EFB isn’t essential to flying, but it makes all the stuff around it easier and more enjoyable.
Why have it
With hundreds of aviation-specific applications to choose from, it’s impossible to list everything an EFB can do, but there are some broad capabilities that make it worth the purchase price.
Flight planning and moving map. By far the most useful apps for pilots are those where you can plan a flight, and then use that plan overlaid on a chart for a type of in-flight GPS. Although you will need to spend some time setting up your personal and aircraft profile, once you get into the normal app functionality, these programs can save countless hours of having to put pencil to chart and flight log. Many also incorporate instrument approach charts, weather, airport information, logbooks, synthetic vision, and more.
Mobile learning. With companies such as Sporty’s and King Schools on the iPad, it makes sense to have mobile learning resources as a student. Gone are the days of carrying massive bags of books to each lesson. Now the iPad can house all you need in terms of video training, lesson plans, practice quizzes, textbooks, and other tools. The ability to study at home and then review with an instructor in the same course and on the same device is invaluable.
Weather. Although most flight planning apps have robust weather capabilities, many pilots opt for additional weather apps to supplement their weather information gathering. Some show only the radar, while others have extensive briefing tools and information.
Logbook. There’s no requirement in the regulations that your logbook must be paper. Although paper can be easier in training when you’re trying to keep track of endorsements, starting an electronic logbook early in your flying life is a great idea. There are dozens of good options to choose from, with capabilities including electronic signatures and endorsements.
Weight and balance. When applications are available for the iPad that calculate weight and balance in a matter of seconds, there’s no excuse not to do it every flight.
Aside from those broad categories of applications there are loads of fun, useful, and quirky programs that make the iPad a great tool in training and beyond.
Adding an EFB to your gear kit has the unusual benefit of both making your life easier and saving you money. Aside from the initial investment in the hardware, software is relatively inexpensive, and can pay for itself. Consider that instead of spending money on paper charts, they will all be held electronically, and many programs will update automatically. The same goes for mobile learning, textbooks, regulations, and airport information. To maintain all of that with physical materials would cost considerably more, and be less convenient.
What it doesn’t do well
EFBs may be great tools, but they do have their drawbacks. There are some serious limitations to consider. These include:
Ready to go shopping? Here’s a list of items to consider when setting up your EFB.
Although EFB apps can save you time the benefits aren’t without some minor tradeoffs. Namely, EFBs require you to perform a digital preflight to make sure the system will run properly during the flight, and you have all the available information.
You’re now ready to enter the digital age of aviation. Play with your apps on the ground to make sure you are familiar with their operation. Watch instructional videos, reach out to user forums, and work with your instructor. Short flight lessons are not the place to learn the myriad functions these apps can perform. Then charge up that tablet and go flying!