Bridging the gap – why we need to teach pilots how to use electronic flight bags

On July 20, 2007, the FAA issued Advisory Circular 91-78. It states that pilots can replace paper charts with an EFB (Electronic Flight Bag, FAA-speak for tablets running flight management apps) for most Part 91 operations as long as the application and chart data are kept up to date. It recommends that you carry a backup source of data, like a second tablet or phone or paper charts.

Today, tablets running EFB applications (i.e. ForeFlight, FlyQ, Garmin Pilot and others) are common in cockpits. However, students wanting to become proficient with EFB use are left to search for training videos on YouTube and to experiment with it in flight. They are hard pressed to find a CFI who will not only teach them how to use an EFB, but also how to manage its use in the cockpit.

Until recently.

A few months ago, Justin Cleland, co-owner of JB Aviation, and Mike Nowakowski, CFII and the Chief Flight Instructor at JB Aviation’s Flight School at Galt Airport, sat down to update the school’s syllabus.

Mike recalls, “Justin and I sat in development and discussed what we’re going to put in the syllabus. We added items, and then we stepped back and asked, ‘Well, wait a minute… is this relevant anymore?’”

The concepts still apply, but the methods were outdated.

iPad in cockpit
The iPad a reality for most pilots these days – why don’t many schools teach it?

Justin agreed, “We struggled with that. We want to teach what’s going to help you in the air, what’s going to make you a better pilot.”

Teletype limitations required coded weather reports. He asked, “How does that make someone a better pilot? Instead of spending an hour translating NOTAMs and METARs with a student asking, ‘What does this mean? What does that mean?’ and ‘I don’t understand that,’ we read the decoded weather briefings and ask more meaningful questions. The student is learning something important for the next hour. That’s a huge advantage.”

“There’s a sense that you’re not a good pilot if you don’t do things the way you were taught years ago,” Justin added. “That’s not the way it works. Technology moves forward!”

Transitioning from the PTS and adopting the ACS required a seismic shift in preparing students for their checkride. The ACS teaches “single pilot cockpit resource management.” A skills gap can exist between flight instructors and students, who come in expecting to learn how to use an iPad in the cockpit.

Mike says, “As a flight school, we have to answer that, otherwise we’re not going to be in this business for long. Some instructors feel they’re just here to teach you how to fly, not how to use a tablet. We don’t agree with that mentality.”

Justin recalled flights with students as a CFI: “We’d be on our way to Monroe and we’d tell them something has happened and we’re going to divert to Beloit. We’d ask, ‘How many miles is it to Beloit?’ Well, four minutes later after they look at their sectional and we’re already past Beloit, the student would say, ‘Seven miles. We’ll be there in seven miles.’ That question is fair game on a checkride. Now, they can just grab that magenta line in ForeFlight, drop it over Beloit and say, ‘Four minutes and twenty-two seconds.’ That frees us up as instructors to do more, to provide more complicated scenarios and add more depth to the training.”

The EFB reduces the workload, improving the safety and efficiency of a flight so the pilot can concentrate on the flying.

“When I get into an airplane now, I have ForeFlight connected to my headset and my ADS-B transponder. It’s a 3-dimensional volume of continuously updated, live information: weather, traffic, TFRs, runway closures, winds aloft, even fuel prices. It’s like having a co-pilot!”

“It’s talking to me, telling me I’m 10 miles out and what the AWOS frequency is, what the CTAF frequency is. It’s telling me when to set up for a 45-degree entry into the left downwind for the runway I’m going to use. It’s calling out a 10-mile final, 8-mile final, 6-mile final. Live traffic is pictured on my iPad and it’s telling me about it, audibly!”

He said, “You can’t tell me we should disregard those amazing benefits just to use a manual E6B and a paper sectional.”

But they knew it can prove distracting, too. And they had concerns about the potential for an EFB to make a pilot lazy. When students are taught to use it correctly, they agree that it can make for a more situationally aware, safer pilot. They wanted to close that skills gap.

The flight school needed to add EFB expertise on the team. Fortunately, that expert had an airplane and hangar right there at Galt.

Ron Friend is an Advanced Ground Instructor and a ForeFlight guru. He joined the discussions. They talked about how to incorporate ever-evolving EFB systems into the flight training syllabus.

Intro to ForeFlight, Ron’s first class, has been added to the syllabus. He uses a foundational approach that includes how to enter pilot and aircraft information, how to do a weight and balance computation, and basic flight planning.

Ron says, “You still have to populate ForeFlight with specific information from the POH before you leave the ground.”

chart on kneeboard
As good as the iPad is, students need to start with the old sectional chart.

They decided to not allow students to use an EFB in the cockpit until they can prove to the instructor they can fly from Point A to Point B with a chart in their lap.

A DPE might not ask you to use a manual E6B, but you will probably be asked how and where ForeFlight got the performance information to do its calculations.

But a student learning just how to use an EFB won’t know anything about magnetic variation. That’s a built-in function of ForeFlight. You don’t want to get in the airplane with a DPE and have him or her ask why you decided to fly at 4,500 feet, with your only reply being, “Because ForeFlight told me to.”

“You still have to know the concepts,” Justin said. “As my math teacher used to say, ‘I want to see your work.’”

Ron created a second ForeFlight class titled, How’d it Go? He teaches it after a student has used ForeFlight in the cockpit and has had a taste of what it’s like to be a little overwhelmed by the information it provides.

A section of Ron’s hangar is set up as a classroom, complete with a large screen monitor and a Redbird simulator. Ron said, “I can take the iPad out of an airplane, mount it on my simulator, turn it on, and there’s no difference in ForeFlight between the plane and the simulator.”

“The new generation of students is very comfortable with the technology and we want to bring them in. That’s the future. The tools are already being used. JB Aviation teaches students to use them effectively.”

Mike added, “We don’t just want to make better pilots, we want to make safer pilots.”

24 Comments

  • I totally agree, great to teach how to use the EFB as it has made pilots’ lives much easier! My approach is to teach paper charts and manual E6B- and if they choose to purchase an iPad and Foreflight (not a small investment) then I’ll train them to use that as well. Either method is game for the solo cross countries as long as they show proficency in their chosen method.

  • That sounds like a very reasonable approach, Roca. The tide is changing, and the learning may go both ways sometime. There is an older (by a year, maybe two) DPE that I spoke to who stated that, if it were up to him, iPads would be banned from the cockpit, declaring he’d never own one. When he pulled a yellowed, round E6B out of his shirt pocket – which also appeared to be holding a year’s worth of read-backs – a foreboding came over me: he was going to challenge me to a race against my electronic E6B! To my dying day, I’ll be glad he didn’t ’cause I have no doubt that the result would have left me too embarrassed to show up at the airport: “Hey, aren’t you the smartass who got trounced by the old guy with a cardboard E6B?” So, to each his own!

  • Jerry, I didn’t realize the Foreflight app could give you information like the 45 degree turn, distance callouts and audible traffic callouts. I thought I read all the Foreflight info but must have missed these. Do you offer CFI’s your Foreflight class info? Joe

    • Thanks to Joe2 for quickly answering your question about setting up ForeFlight for audible callouts. I’ll ask Mike Nowakowski, the head of JB Aviation’s Flight School to answer your question about ForeFlight for CFIs. So, expect a notification from Air Facts that there’s a follow up here.

  • @Joe The Alert settings for traffic and destination call out so many miles out with CTAF (ASOS? too I forgot) are in More, Settings, Alerts. I have the IPad Bluetooth into the headset. Smartphone is Bluetooth to headset too. Anyway, with the Alerts on it is calling this stuff out. Terrain Alert call outs at 2000’ AGL for antenna farms I appreciated. I don’t remember the 45 downwind entry one though… I wouldn’t mind a runway recommendation for wind conditions…

    • Aha! Maybe others knew this already but I just discovered the way to add the VFR landing traffic pattern in FF. In the Flights tab, FPL, then Procedures. Procedures always had an IFR sound to it so I never looked too far into those menus. Anyway it visually shows you optimum runway for wind conditions, visually shows you optimum pattern for the direction of approach ( 45, cross midfield teardrop, cross midfield direct, straight in). GPS waypoints for the traffic pattern. Correctly chooses Right Pattern. I haven’t figured out how to add VFR traffic pattern in the Flights tab. If I send a flight with VFR traffic pattern in Maps back to Flights it strips off the traffic pattern. Anyway, now I can see if I add the VFR traffic pattern in Maps and fly and see what audio I get. If the weather ever gets better…

  • Hi Joe,

    I’d be happy to help you out in anyway I can related to better education to your clients. Do me a favor and shoot me an email letting me know what you’d like to talk about. Mike at flywithjb dot com

  • I have talked to use for an iPad right from the beginning of my CFI experience. I have one very common sense to call DPE that understands the need for use of modern technology. I’m very grateful for that.

    • I applaud your comment and foresight, Peg. As the technologies we use for navigation have evolved from sextants to Lorans, to VORs and GPS, so too, flight schools needs to evolve if they expect their students to become proficient pilots. I recently asked a CFI friend why he didn’t include the use of tablets with his students. He proceeded to tell me about a student of his who had placed an iPad on top of the panel during cruise flight. Not surprisingly, when they neared their destination airport, the student discovered that the tablet had overheated in the sun and was unusable. Those are teaching moments, not excuses for CFIs to prohibit the use of tablets in the cockpit.

  • Technology is a wonderful tool…when used appropriately. I had to chuckle as I read all the “benefits” of the EFB. It can tell me when to do “X”, and it can tell me how to do “Y”. Why not just take the leap and let it do everything for you? No knowledge, skill or intelligence required. Just enjoy the ride. Technology is not a 100% given, so what are you going to fall back on when it fails? Or will you become that “smoking hole” when your iPad or tablet fails?

  • JB Aviation’s flight school syllabus was designed to include EFB training – not to exclude other necessary skills. I think you missed an important paragraph, Mike:
    “But they knew it can prove distracting, too. And they had concerns about the potential for an EFB to make a pilot lazy. When students are taught to use it correctly, they agree that it can make for a more situationally aware, safer pilot. They wanted to close that skills gap.”

  • Do you recall what was in the old fight bag? Charts, ploter, flight log, etc. could the plane be flown useing the fb? No! Well here is a flash for you. The I Pad is a substitute for the charts etc. but cannot be used to operate in any other format. Just because you can bluetooth data from the electronics to the I Pad doesn’t mean you can use that data to operate the aircraft. AC 91.78

  • Jerry I have flown with an IPad for a couple years and would like to see or hear how to set mine up for the audible alerts you mentioned in the article; weather, traffic, TFRs, runway closures, winds aloft, fuel prices, notification 10 miles out, awos, ctaf, when to set up a 45 left downwind entry to the recommended runway, and call outs for 10, 8, and 6 mile final. I know how to find this info within Foreflight but no idea it could be verbally provided live. Great article and about time the industry provides training for the tool that everybody uses and has so far had to self teach. Terry

    • Hi Terry,

      I’ve referred your question to the guys at JB Aviation. They’re more savvy with setting up ForeFlight than I am. One of them will get back to you ASAP. They’re a great bunch and super helpful.

      Also, please see the comment from “Joe2” above. He offered some guidance as to where to set the alerts in ForeFlight, in response to a question from “Joe.”

      Jerry

    • Hi again, Terry.
      Your question has prompted a useful discussion that will hopefully fill some of the gaps I left in my article.
      Ron Friend, JB Aviation’s ForeFlight guru, offered some guidance that should answer your questions. However, rather than insert them as a reply, I created a new general Comment so that all readers can refer to it. Please scroll to that new Comment. Thanks!
      Jerry

  • To all who have asked about setting up audible alerts in ForeFlight:

    1. Please be aware that access to all alert settings may vary with your subscription level to ForeFlight.
    2. Other equipment can be used to provide added capabilities to ForeFlight. For example, to use ForeFlight’s weather feature at its fullest potential, you would need to have a Stratus 2S on board and have your iPad connected to it.

    That said, the following instructions may answer most questions.
    Navigate ForeFlight menu as follows:
    1. More>Settings
    2. Scroll down to Preferences
    3. Tap Alerts
    4. You will find 16 “alerts” in total that can be toggled On or Off as desired.
    NOTE: Several items mentioned are not actually “Alerts” but can also be found in the “Settings” section of ForeFlight. Scrolling through each section can reveal additional useability settings.

    Jerry Thomas

    • Getting the Alerts set in ForeFlight is half of the equation. The other half is getting the audio fed into the headset. Hopefully you have a headset with a 1/8” audio in (usually targeted to the music listening crowd) or your headset has Bluetooth. I use Bluetooth to keep from having to have one more cord to hook up. Another item is setting the priority of audio signals, I prefer the Com has priority so if someone is calling out on CTAF audio alerts from ForeFlight are muted so Com doesn’t get stomped on. There are audio adapters you can purchase to add 1/8 plug or Bluetooth to your current headset if you don’t have them already. Before Bluetooth I did use the iPad turned max volume and you could usually barely hear it jabbering away which clued me in to just look at the ForeFlight screen to pickup what alerts is being called out. I tend to use audio alerts as a confirmation of what I already have noted. If I know what it is going to say before it says it then success.

  • I was out of flying for the years that EFBs became really popular. When I started back flying I went to an EFB because it was impossible to go to the local FBO and find charts and plates for a long cross country. You could probably fly with out one locally but why limit the info you have on board (assuming you know how to use it). Also the traffic and weather available with ADS-B is almost as important as the charting functions.

    • I agree, Allan. The cost of flying is already painful enough without having to keep up-to-date paper charts and AFDs. There is still the cost of a tablet, but their functions and popularity are not limited to flight. By the time most students show up at a flight school, they’re already familiar not just with using a tablet but also using simplified GPS. The additional availability of weather and traffic on our tablets is a big plus – as long as the very real limitation are understood.

  • I think a best approach is to teach and learn everything the manual way. Using the manual E6B and then once you have that down learn how to use the electronic one.
    Thats how I approached learning how to fly. (which I am currently working on my private) I learned how to navigate with just the sectional and the G1000 then on one of my flights I brought my iPad that was plotted to match my course from my sectional. Slowly bit by bit I added and started to use the sectional and foreflight more and more… I still do things manually thought like weight and balance and my nav logs but I’m sure I will integrate that into the process in the future.
    As a student I think the best way is to learn how o do it the manual way and then slowly introducing the use of the EFB that way you don’t get overwhelmed with the technology taking away things you just learned how to do.

  • For my student pilots, the tablet doesn’t really come into play until the underlying concepts and skills are pretty well set. Why? I’d like them to be able to spot an “outlier” result when working with the technology.

    While ForeFlight is the “big dog”, I have clients who fly with WingX and Fltplan Go as their EFB. I also have clients who’ve upgraded their panels and are now trying to see how to use the new devices effectively. In the last year, I’ve worked with folks who upgraded to G1000 equipped aircraft, added an Aspen, moved to Garmin G500/G600 panels, upgraded to Garmin 650/750 GPS/Nav/Comms, and replaced AI’s and DG’s with Garmin G5’s. Add an iPad or an Android tablet to the mix and it’s never dull.

    I’m an “older” independent CFI. Airlines are not in my future. My objective is to stay up to speed on the technologies the best I can. The library of manuals/pilot guides on my iPad continues to grow.

    • I certainly agree with your comments pertaining to the constantly evolving technologies, Mark. It’s almost impossible to keep up.
      While JB Aviation’s flight school teaches ForeFlight, my preference for the kind of flying I do is Seattle Avionics’ FlyQ, which runs on both of my iPad Mini’s (v2 and v4). I have also used Aerovie. On an older Android tablet and on my Android phone, I run the Avare EFB. Can’t be faulted for not having backups.
      A CFII friend who used to fly search missions with the Coast Guard over Lake Michigan recently grumbled, “Nobody gets lost anymore.” Doesn’t mean they can navigate, but at least they’re not lost!

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