by Jeffery Taylor
Aviation Consultant WisDOT Bureau of Aeronautics
Do you own an iPad? Or are you considering buying one for your cockpit to display aeronautical charts? If so, you are part of a mass movement in aviation toward the use of electronic charts to replace paper. Hardly a week goes by without an announcement of an airline, or even the military, adopting tablet computers for in-flight use as Electronic Flight Bags (EFB). While many pilots are using tablets, several have questions about the legality of their use.
Is it legal?
Several factors should be considered before you commit to using a tablet computer. A good place to start is Advisory Circular (AC) 91-78, Use of Class 1 or Class 2 Electronic Flight Bag. This AC provides information on the removal of paper aeronautical charts and other documentation from the cockpit.
You must also comply with FAR 91.21, Portable Electronic Devices. This regulation limits the use of electronic devices in the cockpit unless you have flight-tested and documented that the device does not interfere with your aircraft’s systems. Part 91, subpart F requires operators to ensure compliance with FAR 91.503 at all times.
I strongly recommend you become thoroughly familiar with the menus and functions of your tablet before you conduct the flight tests. You don’t want to be fumbling for the right data at a critical phase of flight. All flights should be flown in VFR flight conditions.
If you have successfully complied with the previous steps, then you are completely legal to use the iPad for electronic charts, providing that the data is current and is a functional replacement of the paper version, for Part 91 Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) or Visual Flight Rules (VFR), preflight, flight and post-flight.
Do I need backups?
As pilots, we always think about backups and “plan B” to ensure a safe flight. The FAA does not require you to carry paper, but Advisory Circular 91-78 suggests pilots consider carrying a secondary source of aeronautical information. The secondary source could either be paper charts or another separate electronic display.
Other considerations include power supply and signal strength. Though the iPad’s battery life is excellent, intensive use over a long flight can drain the battery faster than you might expect – especially if you start at less than 100 percent. Several after-market devices are available to boost and stabilize the GPS signal reception to your iPad.
The use of tablet computers, specifically the iPad, is changing how many pilots plan and conduct their flights. Take the time you need to ensure you fully understand your tablet’s features and are comfortable using it before relying on it in the cockpit. If used wisely, it can improve the efficiency and safety of your flights.