FAA Outlines Paths to In-Flight iPad Operations

 - June 27, 2011, 5:40 AM

The FAA has outlined its official policy toward use of Apple iPads and other tablet computers as Class 1 electronic flight bags (EFBs) in an Information for Operators document (InFO 11011). The InFO lists the guidance that the FAA expects operators to follow when seeking approval to use tablets as EFBs and clarifies the difference between Part 135/91 Subpart K requirements and Part 91. Applicable documents include FAA Order 8900.1 (volume 4, chapter 15, section 1 and volume 3, chapter 18, section 3), AC 120-76A and AC 91-78. An iPad app like Jeppesen’s Mobile TC software, which displays only approach plates, terminal procedures and airport diagrams, “is defined as a Type B software application per AC 120-76A,” according to the InFO.

The FAA notes that Part 135 operators and fractional program managers must receive operation or management specification approval, but Part 91 operators do not need FAA authorization to use tablets as EFBs. “To be used in critical phases of flight, an EFB displaying Type B software must be secured and viewable. A kneeboard is one way to accomplish this.”

The InFO specifically warns that display of aircraft position (own-ship position) on Class 1 EFBs running Type B software is not allowed “in accordance with current policy in AC 120-76A.” In the InFO, the FAA writes, “The Jeppesen Mobile TC App inhibits own-ship position,” yet Jeppesen is developing the capability to display own-ship position not only on approach plates and airport diagrams but also on en route charts, a capability that the company expects to make available later this year.

AC 120-76A is due for an update, and the FAA has released a draft of AC 120-76B, for which comments are due by July 11. The draft of 120-76B also addresses the issue of own-ship position, and mentions that own-ship position display is allowed for airport moving-map displays. “Own-ship position is not authorized for display or used for any application, for navigation or otherwise, on a Class 1 or Class 2 EFB in flight,” according to the draft AC.

The FAA leaves it up to the pilot for Part 91 operations to decide whether to replace paper with electronic charts. But the InFO recommends consulting guidance in AC 91-78 and 120-76A and compliance with FAR 91.21, portable electronic devices. “Operators transitioning to a paperless cockpit should undergo an evaluation period during which the operator should carry paper backups of the material on the EFB. During this period, the operator should validate that the EFB is as available and reliable as the paper-based system being replaced.”