When, if at all, would you let a student bring an iPad or other electronic flight bag into the cockpit?
Chris Esposito co-founded Orlando, Florida’s first sport pilot flight school, First Landings Aviation, before putting his skills to use at Air Orlando Aviation, where he instructs in both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. Chris has given more than 2,300 hours of flight instruction since earning his CFI certificate, working with more than 50 students along the way. He says:
Students are always looking for ways to enhance their abilities as they work toward a pilot’s license. With the myriad of relatively inexpensive electronic flight bags available, it’s no wonder they have become popular tools for recreational and professional pilots alike. Should students use these tools? Yes, as an aid, but not as a replacement for knowledge.
IPad apps and EFBs can reduce the workload of a pilot substantially by calculating weight and balance data and performance data, and even by planning and tracking cross-country flights. Just as some students and pilots overly rely on GPS equipment, students can overly rely on their EFB to do work they simply don’t understand.
I teach my students to calculate weight and balance and performance data the traditional way, because one day, if their EFB decides not to work, they will still be able to carry out their duties as pilot in command. Understanding how to plan a cross-country using dead reckoning and pilotage is also a must. If all students do is to follow the line on the GPS or EFB display, are they really learning anything on cross-country flights?
While EFBs and iPads should not be used as a crutch to make up for insufficient knowledge, they certainly do have a place in the cockpit assuming students understand the basics. I’m a big proponent of using all available resources in the cockpit, and an EFB is just one more resource in a pilot’s inventory. It’s also one of the most valuable resources, because an EFB can serve several functions, from flight planning to receiving live weather information to storing documents such as the aircraft’s POH and checklist.
An EFB can also greatly simplify the contents of a pilot’s flight bag by consolidating many tools into one unit. Whether a student pilot’s or a professional’s, an EFB can aid in reducing workload and allow a pilot to concentrate on flying the airplane instead of fussing with rule-of-thumb calculations when something unexpected occurs. Of course, an EFB is no replacement for experience and understanding, so students should use it with caution.
Martha King has helped make aviation knowledge more accessible to pilots worldwide by combining elegant technology with clear, fun teaching. Martha holds every category and class of FAA rating on her pilot certificate, and every flight and ground instructor certificate. Her company, King Schools, also provides the curricula for more than 275 Cessna Pilot Centers. She says:
There are many ways a flight instructor can inflict cruel and unusual punishment on a student, but one of the cruelest of all would be to tell a student who just bought an iPad or another tablet to use in the cockpit not to use it.
One thing you know for sure is that, when this pilot leaves your care, he or she will immediately bring the device into the cockpit. The iPad in particular is obviously useful in so many ways that there is no way that, if one is there, he or she won’t use it. It is up to you as a flight instructor to help students learn how to use it safely.
When and how should they start using it? When they have physical control of the aircraft well in hand and are ready to start navigating on their own. That might be when they start going out to the practice area on their own or start their cross-countries.
You should help your student get set up so that the iPad is indeed a help, not a distraction. I like to use a leg strap that attaches it to my thigh, but some folks prefer using a kneeboard.
There are so many applications available that you should help them pick ones that will work for them. Make sure they can show you they know how to use those apps before they take them into the cockpit.
And by the way, they need to also be able to demonstrate they can perform the same functions the old-fashioned way, in case the electronic device fails.
You also need to make sure they learn the tools to manage their attention scan, so they are not fiddling with the electronics when they should be flying the airplane.
We have entered a wonderful new era of capability we couldn’t have even dreamed of just a few years ago. We just need to make sure that we all learn the mental discipline to use these wonderful new tools wisely.