iPads allow millions of people to check their email, watch television shows, read books, listen to music and much more! A more recent addition to this list is the ability to fly airplanes. No, not like remote control airplanes (although iPads can do that too). These personal computers are helping pilots fly real-life airplanes. The recent addition of iPads to the cockpits of airplanes, big and small has changed the way pilots fly. These tablet computers are making the skies safer by giving pilots plenty of information at the touch of their fingers. In the past, pilots were forced to carry around many pounds of charts and books containing information about all different things from airspace to airports. These books were inefficient in that they were not only bulky to use in the cockpit, but using them took a long time to find necessary information. Now, all of that information is neatly organized in an app called ForeFlight and has since made flying substantially easier for many pilots.
Flying is an art that involves the use of a vast amount of information. Back in the old times (even nowadays, in old airplanes) pilots not only needed to carry with them bundles of manuals and charts, but were also supposed to be able to locate what they needed while juggling their flight controls and gauges under stressful conditions. One noticeable improvement, with the iPad, is a paperless cockpit. This is particularly beneficial to small airplanes since having one more cubic inch of free space in a tight cockpit means extra comfort for its pilots. Not only that, the less time a pilot spends in obtaining and reading a map or chart, the more time he or she concentrates on the health of a flight. Many accidents happen when pilots are too preoccupied with other cockpit chores and thus, simply just forget to fly the airplane. This app has provided a very affordable solution to the problem of inefficient cockpit resource management through a clean, ergonomic flat panel. But exactly how affordable is it?
The cost of having ForeFlight is nearly negligible, if broken down into every flight (assume you are a regular flyer). In the US, a basic version called ForeFlight Mobile Standard-USA only costs a pilot 74.99USD a year, and the price tops at 144.99USD. An extra hundred-dollar investment on a small portable GPS receiver such as a ForeFlight recommended Stratus 2 would provide much more capabilities and precision on the ForeFlight. This receiver connects to the iPad wirelessly and sends enhanced GPS data for the use of tracking, weather updates and traffic advisories. To sum it up, it costs no more than a few hundred dollars to have a full digital display that shows real-time weather data, traffic information, location services and almost unlimited access to maps, charts and diagrams. The installment of built-in avionics of comparable capability would at least cost tens of thousands of dollars and a few days of airplane down time. A pilot can fly the exact same plane more precisely and efficiently without physically modifying anything in the airplane thanks to this app.
It also enables old airplanes to fly farther and into more complicated situations. A friend of mine once took a barely IFR capable Cessna 152 for a 400 nautical mile trip. The flight has been in and out of instrument weather conditions and up and down to airports surrounded by low ceilings. “We wouldn’t have flown if we didn’t have the iPad; it’s a lifesaver.” Granted, the airplane is IFR capable. But it would have to take a heck ton of work and airmanship to finish this 6-hour long trip without any drama and intense moments. Almost all the flight planning process is done on the iPad, from weather analysis to filing their flight plan. All that was necessary to do was to ensure that the weather conditions along the path of flight would be tolerable for their little Cessna and to also let the computer know their limits by simply selecting from a pool of airplane types already in its database. They knew precisely when to land at which airport for fuel, what kind of weather conditions to expect at which point, what frequency is needed to contact whom, etc. All this information is entirely prepared and presented by the iPad, with little or no efforts at all from its user.
Certainly the iPad does not change how airplanes behave in the air, yet it did revolutionize how a pilot obtain and manage the resources critical to the safety and efficiency of a flight. It frees a pilot from being troubled by data collection, analysis and presentation and thus also reduces the risks associated with human error in such processes. Instead, pilots become less distracted and more informed as they make decisions based on the needs and limitations. After all, the next time one goes on a cross country flight, he can just follow the magenta line in the center of his iPad screen!