March 20, 2016

As a Pilot operating under Part 91 and flying piston/turboprops less than 12,500 Lbs, you've certainly questioned yourself if it's allowed to use an iPad in the cockpit to replace traditional paper charts? In this post, we will cover the legal aspects.

The future of Paper Charts!

What does the FAA say about it?

According to FAR 91.21, you may use your iPad the cockpit as long as it will not cause any interference with the aircraft systems. You as a pilot in command should determine whether your iPad fulfills this requirement.

According to the FAA Advisory Circular 91-78 the iPad is considered a Class 1 (Portable) EFB (Electronic Flight Bag). It should be used as portable independent device, not fixed to the aircraft structure, nor connected to any aircraft system. You are allowed to use an approved cigar lighter in your aircraft for electrical power.

Your iPad may be used in VFR/IFR Day & Night Operations, in lieu of paper charts when:

  • The iOS App used is a functional equivalent of the paper chart;
  • The iOS source used for Navigation or Performance Planning is up-to-date and valid;
  • It does not replace any system or equipment (e.g. navigation, communication, or surveillance system) that is required by 14 CFR part 91;
  • It does not interfere with any aircraft system.

The in-flight use of your iPad in lieu of paper reference material is not subject to formal FAA operational approval but again, it's the responsibility of you as the Pilot In Command.

The FAA recommends however to have a backup source of Aeronautical Information readily available. It may be in an traditional paper format as well as in an electronic format (e.g. second iPad).

What do we recommend

Before using any iOS App during flight, it's extremely important to be 100% familiar with all functions first on the ground.

Hint: talk to your Flight School and check if they have a Simulator (AATD or BATD) available that can emulate a GPS signal so you can train with your iPad in a safe environment. E.g. Redbird Simulations and FlyThisSim provide these great features.

If you don't have a simulator, schedule a VFR cross-country flight (preferable with some airspace complexity and high ATC workload) with a CFI in order to get some practice.

Beware Auto Updates

All iOS Apps will be updated on a frequent basis. Ensure you are familiar with all new features before taking it in the air! Nothing is more humiliating and dangerous than discovering in the air that a simple tab to find an ATC frequency suddenly has changed, while simultaneously entering Class B without clearance.

Kay Vereeken,
Airline Pilot - Flight Instructor