iPads in the cockpit: Are they actually useful?

Lately, iPad usage in the cockpit has skyrocketed with even commercial airlines giving them to their pilots but just how useful are they for pilots right now? In a provocative post entitled iPad insanity for the the AOPA Pilot Blog, Ian J. Twombly questioned just how useful iPads really are for pilots in the cockpit.

Specifically, Ian pointed out that the iPad offers pilots:

  • Virtually No New Capabilities on the App Front. Ian wrote that some iPad apps do package information in new ways, but they do not necessarily offer any new capabilities. He also pointed out that Seattle Avionics has offered tablet or PC-based Voyager for years now and so far it does significantly more than any app on the market.
  • A Duplicate of Existing Technology. Ian noted that a panel-mounted GPS or free computer flight planner software (such as what AOPA offers) will do just about everything that an iPad does.
  • More Than What They Need. Ian made the point that while the iPad can hold every single US aviation chart, he himself does not need to carry every single one as he only flies over roughly half the country – which is probably more of the country than most general aviation pilots. In other words, people get “blown away” by the iPad’s capability to hold every chart but at $700 to purchase one along with a year’s worth of charts, he would rather buy paper because it won’t overheat, doesn’t require a recharge and can be read in sunlight. 

Nevertheless, Ian did concede at the end of his post that once we get good in-cockpit weather along with “better flight planning products, panel integration, logbook and maintenance tracking, and all the other facets of our aviation life on one device,” the iPad will become infinitely more valuable. Its just that he believes that day has not yet arrived yet.

Hence, we want to ask you our readers what you think: Is the iPad as it stands now, really a useful cockpit device or just an expensive and overhyped device?



2 Responses to iPads in the cockpit: Are they actually useful?

  1. Hani Dabbagh September 9, 2011 at 14:19 #

    Just for the ability of packing the charts of Europe *and* making it easy to update them, I'd say it would be very useful. (Though that does not mean I would actually use it in flight — I'm not sure if that was what you meant by your question).

    Updating paper charts is a real pain (even for one country), and you never know which country you would need , so you tend to take bulky files with you whenever you fly.

  2. Micah September 14, 2011 at 16:20 #

    I think the author misses the point entirely. As a piece of technology, I don’t see the iPad as created to do something new; instead it was created as a better way of doing things you already do. As a pilot, that’s what I love about the iPad. I don’t have to wait for my updated charts to arrive in the mail or search the local FBOs for a chart last-minute. All of my charts are downloaded by me and cost a fixed-price ($150/year via ForeFlight). When I walk to the airplane my flightbag is extremely light: headset, sunglasses, iPad. As a Flight Instructor, I always have additional material handy, but the extra 30 lbs of material stay in the truck and not in the airplane. As far as Voyager (which I’ve never seen) I can’t comment on its usefulness. What I can say about the iPad is that it’s entirely easy and useful (and relatively cheap; less than the Voyager system. My only problem is having to wrestle it away from my kids or wife when I need to go fly. For me, it’s a no-brainer: it’s the best flying aid I’ve seen since I began flying.

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