Safety topic from Episode 10

Electronic flight bags

It’s all very tempting, isn’t it? You have your powerful, compact and lightweight iPad loaded with the latest flight planning software and all the digital charts you could possibly need for your flight. Compared with the bulky kilo’s of paper charts you’ve lugged around in your flight bag in the past, this is a dream come true. Or a nightmare – depending on whether your luck’s about to run out. 

Your iPad or similar tablet has become the go-to solution to simple, easy navigation ... as long as it is carrying adequate charge, doesn’t overheat, is mounted legally, doesn’t cop a smashed screen, or simply decides to malfunction just for the heck of it. Regardless of rigorous testing, an EFB in the form of an iPad, is just like any other mainstream electrical product and can fail without notice. 

Make no mistake: the iPad is an excellent tool which can lighten a pilot’s workload immensely, and increase situational awareness with the excellent flight planning and weather software available. Just keep in mind not to depend on it functioning flawlessly. It’s a seriously bad idea to rely on it without backup. 

It is more than a little concerning to see the blind faith being placed in EFBs by pilots. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear GA pilots boast that they no longer carry a single paper map in their cockpit. Well, good luck with that if both your iPads decide to call it a day without notice.

So, what’s your plan B? If you’re suddenly faced with a black screen where useful information was displayed a few seconds ago, things could go from pear-shaped to dangerous in a very short space of time. CASA’s rules are clear:

What is the legal requirement for a backup to my EFB?

For AOC holders, a backup is mandatory. It is at the operator’s discretion whether the backup is another EFB, or hardcopy charts, maps and documents. The requirements of CAR 233(1)(h) are clear in that the pilot must have the latest documents from an approved vendor readily accessible. It is the readily accessible requirement that prompts the need for backup and all pilots need to ensure how they meet that requirement in the event of a tablet malfunction. 

An electronic device such as another tablet is an acceptable backup. Private pilots can use tablet devices as a primary means of in-flight documentation, as long as the documentation is from an authorised source. 

That brings us to the growing prevalence of unapproved apps that are now available for your iPad. Despite the wide range of tempting and often free choices on offer to pilots, only six vendors have been approved by CASA to provide the data required by the regs, such as the latest versions of the maps and navigational charts for the sector being flown. These vendors are: OzRunways, AvPlan, Jeppesen, Lido, Navtech and Aerostratos and are approved under CAR 233(1)(h) to publish aeronautical maps and charts.

You also need to be across the rules in place regarding your tablet’s screen size, mounting set-up, cabling and stowage area. Revised CAAP 233-1(0) teaches us that the recommended minimum size of the EFB screen is 200mm measured diagonally across the active viewing area. 

Let’s go back to this overheating issue. The notion of a lithium-powered device overheating in a small cockpit is enough to ring alarm bells for anyone involved in aviation. Keep in mind, also, that the temperature you are experiencing in the cockpit may be quite comfortable. Despite the iPad only having a 42.5 watt hour rating, less than half the 100wh rating allowed for carry-on items; at 10,500ft and operating under reduced air density, research has shown that the face of an Apple iPad 'acts thermally like a black surface, so considerable heat can be absorbed from direct sunlight'. 

There is no doubt that the EFB has made the job of pilots easier. However there are just way too many pilots, particularly within GA, who remain ignorant of the iPad's potential shortcomings. If you are in IMC and your iPad fails, there’s no way you will have the luxury of waiting until the device comes alive again. You need to have readily accessible maps and charts from approved vendors. And by ‘readily accessible’, we mean not wedged somewhere within a mountain of paperwork under the back seat, and ideally already folded to display the current flight route. If necessary, you should also have the appropriate approach plates within easy reach. 

On a single pilot VFR flight, you may even find it useful to share the load of navigating with your passenger. Perhaps you will be using the iPad and your passenger can keep track of your progress on the paper chart; or vice versa. It not only keeps the passenger interested and engaged with what’s going on, but it’s a great idea to cross check a location on two sources, if you’re not certain of a positive position fix.

Your EFB has to pass the Ramp Check too, don’t forget. If you are on the ramp and a CASA inspector says "Show me your maps" and your iPad has a flat battery, you are in breach of Civil Aviation Regulation 233(1)(h).

By all means, embrace the technology and capabilities of the EFB to lighten the workload in your cockpit. Just be aware of its limitations and be ready to set your Plan B into action at a moment’s notice if the show suddenly stops mid-flight.