Are iPads Legal in the Cockpit?
A client of mine recently asked me if the FAA restricted the use of iPads and iPhones in the cockpit of his private aircraft. iPads and other tablets are so prevalent in today’s cockpits,
that many of us may assume they have the FAA’s seal of approval. (we will discuss iPhones in another post) After all, any visit to Sporty’s Pilot Shop will turn up dozens of accessories and apps designed for using your iPad in the cockpits of your aircraft. However, the answer may not be so simple.
Without special authorization from the FAA, crews of commercial airlines (Part 135 & 121) are subject to the same restrictions as their passengers and are not allowed to use Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) in critical phases of flights. FAR 121.306, FAR 135.144 & Advisory Circular 91.21-1B. It has long been the FAA’s stance that these PEDs may interfere with the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems and regulations restrict their use.
However, the FAA may be softening their stance. They recently approved several airlines to use iPads in the cockpit in place of paper navigational charts, flight manuals, operational specifications and checklists.
American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Executive Jet Management, and United Airlines are already using them in some capacity and several airlines will soon follow. And now it looks like the FAA may even be more liberal with passengers’ use of PEDs.
So, where does that leave the non-commercial flight crew? Part 91 of the FAR’s contains the same restrictions on PEDs as its Part 135 and 121 counterparts. It states that the PIC shall not allow the operation of PEDs on any IFR flight, except where “the operator … has determined [that the PED] will not cause interference with the navigation or communication system of the aircraft.” FAR 91.21
In other words, as PIC it is up to you to ensure that your iPad, or any other PED onboard, will not interfere with your aircraft’s systems. I am not sure if there are any general aviation aircraft or avionic manufacturers that have conducted such tests, with the exception of SportAir USA. That leaves many of us to be our own test pilot.
It may be worth a few practice approaches and a quick visit to your local avionics shop to make sure your iPad isn’t causing any issues. If you have already been using an iPad in your aircraft, this may seem unnecessary. But remember, as PIC, you are responsible for the safe operation of your aircraft and the safety of your passengers.
So, as far as that FAA seal of approval: before you take-off with your trusty iPad strapped to your leg, ask yourself if you are sure your avionics are iPad-proof.