Paper Charts – Who Needs ’em?

by Jim Price

Everywhere we go, we seem to be surrounded by information technology. It’s staggering to think that in your little iPhone/SmartPhone, there’s more computing power than that which was available when NASA sent Neil Armstrong to the moon. It seems that every six months, the aviation apps you can load on your iPad or Tablet, become more powerful, with incredible features that boggle the mind.  All this causes one to wonder, “How did I ever aviate back in the old days”?

Yet, many pilots remain skeptical, and some are downright adamant, contending that paper charts and plates are much safer than those powered by an iPad/Tablet.

When I was an airline pilot, in addition to my suitcase, I carried a flight bag. This monster contained all the US IFR charts, approach plates, SIDs and STARs that I could ever need when flying to the airports that we served, plus all the approved alternates. Before the days of the Rollaboard, after three or four days of multiple airports and airplanes, my arms felt as if they reached the ground. Boy, I am so jealous of today’s pilots, who simply travel with a suitcase and an iPad,  loaded with all they need. Long live the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB).

With an EFB, if you pay attention to your app’s promptings, there should be no doubt that you have the most up to date charts. You can fly across several states with confidence, knowing that you have everything you need for your cross country. Plus, it’s all available with the click of a button.

You can be super flexible, too. Let’s say that you’re flying from the L A Basin to Boise, ID. If , during the flight planning, you see that weather will force you into Utah, or if you need an alternate in Utah, with just the click of a button and in a matter of a few minutes, you’ll be downloading all of the charts needed to fly through Utah.

If you’re flying with paper, you will have enroute charts, approach charts, SID and STAR charts. That’s a lot of paper to manage. And, if you don’t have a chart handy, you’ll be twisting yourself around, digging through your flight bag in the back seat.

With electronic charts, everything is contained in one app, and with a few clicks, you’re switching between enroute charts and approach charts, and you’re even ready for that approach change that ATC might give you.


The downside of electronic charts is the massive amount of information you have in front of you. If you aren’t able to navigate your app efficiently, you could be doing yourself more harm than good.

If you’re going to fly paperless, spend some time on the ground becoming familiar with your app; learning how to quickly perform all the tasks you need to do in flight.

ForeFlight and Sporty’s offer training courses. ForeFlight’s is free and Sporty’s will cost a bit. Your local FAASTeam might, throughout the year, sponsor FREE iPad workshops with great hands on training. The Phoenix area FAASTeam offers these, but only when the temperatures are below 90.

Of course, you just need to explore you app and discover its features.

What If Your Battery Runs Out?

Apple claims that the iPad has a 10 hour battery. But, when you’re using the GPS location services, the battery life is more like 4 to 6 hours. The iPad mini has more battery life.

If your battery dies, are you out of luck? Not if you’re prepared with backup battery power. You can get a Jackery Giant Plus for only $23 (Amazon). It stores enough power to charge an iPad battery from 0% to 100%. The more powerful Mophie Powerstation costs around $100. You can also power your iPad with a Dual USB charger that plugs into your cigarette lighter. It works with 12 and 24 Volt systems and each USB port supplies 2.4 amps.

If you’ve got one or more backups in the cockpit, along with a charging cable, your chances of running out of power in-flight are zero.

What If You Drop your iPad and Break Your Screen?

I’ll admit, that wouldn’t be good, but if you’re carrying a iPhone/Smart phone in your pocket, all is not lost. Using your smartphone for your backup charts might not be ideal, but it works just fine.

Another thing you should be prepared for is a charging cable failure. Cables are typically the weakest link for any electronic flight kit, and if you don’t have a spare, you could be out of luck. Fortunately, you can get extras for less than $10.

I Heard that an iPad Exploded While Using it Above 10,000 Feet MSL

Apple has established a maximum altitude for the iPad, and yes, it’s 10,000 feet. However, it won’t explode if you fly higher. Because the air is less dense above 10,000 feet, the iPad becomes more susceptible to overheating, especially when it’s exposed to direct sunlight.

What if Your iPad Overheats?

The iPad has a maximum operating temperature of 95oF. When it gets too hot, it will shut down to protect the internal battery. In the summer, you should keep our iPad away from direct sunlight and keep it bathed in cool air. If your iPad overheats, remove it from the sunlight and put some cool air on it. It will cool down in a matter of minutes and automatically restore normal operations.

Paper Charts Don’t Crash

Yup, you’ve got me there. But wait a minute. If you know how to restart your electronic app, it’s not that much of a problem.

Will a TFR Draw Itself on a Paper Chart?

Nope! But if you have an iPad equipped with an aviation app like ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot, WingX or FlyQ, you’re in luck. TFRs, NEXRAD weather, SIGMETs, AIRMETs and much more, can be displayed on your iPad. That is, if you have an ADS-B receiver like a Stratus, Garmin GDL-39, etc., These receivers can turn your electronic chart into a living, constantly updated chart. Try that with a paper chart.

Are Your Paper Charts Updated?

Who doesn’t love chart revisions? Updates come every 56 days, with interim updates at the mid-point of that cycle. That’s not my idea of fun. When I flew with paper, I knew that chart updates were one of the worst realities of flying. At any time, an airline check pilot or the FAA, could check my charts. I was always up to date, but I know others that failed. Some guys hated it so much, that they paid company secretaries to update their Jeppesen charts.

What If You Need To Fly Somewhere and You don’t Have the Necessary Charts?

Good luck tracking them down. You might be able to order them, and have them shipped. Hopefully, they’ll arrive in time for your flight.

What’s Your Best Option?

While paper is still an option, it’s not nearly as practical and reliable as electronic charts, especially when you’re flying long distances.

Instant chart revisions, access to the entire US airspace system, and easy backup plans are just a few reasons why electronic charts win – hands down.

Yes, I carry some “just in case” paper charts, but I keep them in my flight bag in the back seat. I’ve been using an EFB for many years and so far, I’ve never needed the paper.







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