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Paperless Cockpit…A Slippery Slope for Instructors

Posted 6 years 271 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

During a recent Private Pilot examination, I asked the applicant to show me his planned cross-country route and associated planning documents. The applicant pulled out an iPad that was mounted to a kneeboard and said, “I’m ready!” As an opened-minded person, I was intrigued by the applicant’s quick study and preparedness for the task at hand. However, I was concerned the applicant hadn’t properly heard my request and restated that I desired to review all aspects of the pre-flight planning to include plotting the course, wind correction, etc. “Yes Sir” was the applicant’s reply. “I’m ready to go. It’s all right here” he said while holding up his iPad. The lack of materials the applicant had brought with him for the examination caught my attention. 

Our initial review of the applicant’s proposed route of flight was interesting. The flight school had Apple TV integrated into each classroom monitor allowing for the iPad to be displayed. The applicant could display the entire route of flight on the monitor allowing both of us to review the sectional chart with relative ease. The applicant could move around the sectional chart, change between different types of charts, and expand the chart symbols, airspace, and many other activities found challenging when using a paper chart.

All was going well with the applicant demonstrating extensive knowledge of both the material being discussed, and the aviation software utilized on the iPad. As we proceeded to the cross-country portion of the discussion, I asked the applicant to walk me through each step of the planning process. Since the applicant is provided a scenario which includes the destination of the cross-country in advance of the exam, it’s prudent to ensure the applicant completed the cross-country planning process on their own. This can only be accomplished by extensive questioning and a simple demonstration by the applicant of the planning process. 

My initial question was, “So how do you determine the course between two points?” The applicant showed me our current position, then touched the iPad screen at the location of the destination. He said, “just push the ‘Direct To’ icon and it will determine your course for you”. He then showed me how the software would automatically correct for wind, calculate ground speed, and a host of other elements of cross-country planning. It was at this point that things took a turn for the worse!

While demonstrating the ability to scale the screen (make the chart larger by spreading your fingers apart while touching the screen), the chart disappeared. The aircraft symbol that reflected our position and a portion of the sectional chart remained on the screen, however all the area we were planning to fly would not display. The applicant said “I didn’t download the chart. I didn’t think it would matter as it was working just fine till now”. We were in an area that has poor internet and cell coverage. After waiting nearly 15-minutes for the chart to reload while we took a break, I asked the applicant what he planned to do since the iPad wasn’t cooperating. “We can’t go. I’m glad this didn’t happen in-flight!” was his response. When asked about a paper sectional chart backup…” I’ve never even touched one”.     

I’m not against technology. I am however against unsafe practices and fostering mediocrity. Blind faith has no place in aviation. Teach preparedness, options, and problem solving. Someone’s life may depend on it!  

About Randy:  Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award.  Randy is currently  Director of Training at Epic Helicopters in Ft. Worth, Texas.