Flying without Paper Charts

I recently gave a presentation about flying RNAV procedures at the Northwest Aviation Conference. As usual, I asked how many pilots in the audience were using tablets like iPads in the cockpit. Most of the folks raised their hands. It’s astonishing how quickly the aviation community has adopted this technology.

Nevertheless, questions persist about the legality of “going paperless” in the cockpit, at least for typical GA pilots operating light aircraft under 14 CFR Part 91. Here are some key references to help you understand the rules and good operating practices.

The best background is in AC 91-78-Use of Class 1 or Class 2 Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), which explains:

This advisory circular (AC) provides aircraft owners, operators, and pilots operating aircraft under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 91, with information for removal of paper aeronautical charts and other documentation from the cockpit through the use of either portable or installed cockpit displays (electronic flight bags (EFB).

The AC also notes:

This AC is applicable to instrument flight rules (IFR) or visual flight rules (VFR), preflight, flight, and post flight operations conducted under part 91, unless prohibited by a specific section of 14 CFR chapter I.

And it explains:

EFB systems may be used in conjunction with, or to replace, some of the paper reference material that pilots typically carry in the cockpit. EFBs can electronically store and retrieve information required for flight operations, such as the POH and supplements, minimum equipment lists, weight and balance calculations, aeronautical charts and terminal procedures…The in-flight use of an EFB/ECD in lieu of paper reference material is the decision of the aircraft operator and the pilot in command. Any Type A or Type B EFB application, as defined in [AC 120-76] may be substituted for the paper equivalent. It requires no formal operational approval as long as the guidelines of this AC are followed.

You can find further guidance on the FAA website here. And Sporty’s has a good overview of the topic here. For information about using iPads and the like on practical tests, see this item at AOPA.

If you fly IFR using an approved GPS navigation system, you can find additional guidance (and common sense advice) in documents such as the Operational Suitability Report for the Garmin GTN series navigators, published by the FAA in 2011, and available in the FSIMS system, here.

The following Type B applications were evaluated under this report:

(1) Chart capability is limited to Approach Charts, Standard Terminal Arrival Routes, Departure Procedures and Airport Diagrams. Access to the chart information is accomplished by touching the chart symbol on the screen home page. Scaling is accomplished by touching the plus or minus signs on the screen. Chart information is in standard chart layout, oriented in portrait view. It is possible to overlay an approach chart on the navigation display. Navigation Display Approach Chart overlays however, are always oriented so that North on the chart is at the top of the display. Caution should be taken when using this feature, as it can be confusing in some circumstances.

(2) En route charts are not available to view in the GTN 7XX series of units. Airways and associated navigation aids and intersection names are displayed on the navigation display but not in chart format. Because en route chart view is not available, operators will be required to have immediately accessible a suitable approved aeronautical information source of en route charts.

A typical installation includes a GTN 7XX paired with a GTN6XX. Since the GTN6XX series of navigator does not have chart capability a second GTN7XX with charts and an independent power source may be installed to provide the necessary backup. Another method of redundancy could be for the operator to carry an approved stand alone Class I, or Class II EFB device onboard the aircraft. Otherwise, a set of paper charts is required to provide chart redundancy.

In the case of a single unit installation, paper charts (including approach, departure and arrival procedure, airport diagram and en route charts) must be onboard the aircraft or an approved stand alone Class I, or Class II (with a suitable approved source of aeronautical data) device may be substituted for paper charts.


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