Monday, August 15, 2011

ForeFlight versus Nav Canada

A company called ForeFlight has released data for their iPad app that covers IFR procedures in Canada. It includes all volumes of the Canada Air Pilot (approach and departures plates, plus taxiway diagrams) and the IFR high and low enroute charts, and is legal for inflight IFR use. It's not clear whether the database includes the terminal charts, but it kind of has to because the information density around the big cities isn't sufficient in the regular LO charts. It doesn't seem to include the CFS data, but I can't think of information you need for safe IFR navigation that is in the CFS but not the CAP. We'll also have to wait for VFR chart data. Nav Canada is not forthcoming with its data.

There is Transport Canada guidance document and an FAA equivalent governing Electronic Flight Bags, as these systems are called. Page ten of the US version explains how the paper documents can be completely phased out once the system is verified reliable in a given operation, and wording in the Canadian version implies that it allows for completely paperless applications as well.

This isn't something astonishingly new, and I'm sure lots of you are already using such products. What caught my attention today was the price. As far as I can tell, you download the core of the app for free and then pay to add a subscription to the data you need. A ForeFlight Canada subscription costs US $149.99 for a year. For comparison, a subscription to all the editions of the CAP and the high and low charts costs $441 a year, plus taxes. If you only fly in only two regions of Canada, an annual mailed subscription of paper charts will cost you $142, so if you already have an iPad, that's the same cost for paper or electronic. The iPad is probably also about the same weight and the same difficulty to stuff in your flight bag as one LO and one region of the CAP.

Advantages of paper documents over the iPad are that they are unattractive to thieves, still work after they have been dropped or slammed in the trunk door of a cab, will probably dry out to a usable state if you get drenched by rain, are better for starting a fire in an emergency situation, you can write clearances on them, you can unfold them all over the hotel bed to have a wide-screen view of your proposed trip, and the batteries cannot run out. Also they make good auxiliary sunvisors, if you don't have a newspaper.

The iPad wins on staying the same size even if you are flying in all seven regions of Canada, being self-illuminated, allowing scrolling without having to flip the map over, letting you zoom the scale in or out and it probably has a search function. I don't know if you can mark it up with virtual post-its, but you can play Plants versus Zombies on it and check your e-mail while waiting for maintenance to release the aircraft.

What's it like flying with one of these? Does it have a function to do your cold weather corrections automatically or is there a way to mark up a plate after you get the latest METAR, to show all the cold weather corrections and the time to go on a non-precision approach? An iPad seems kind of bulky to mount on the yoke. Where do you put it? How far did you get on Plants versus Zombies?


Kate said...

We've started to integrate the iPad into our operations, currently undergoing a 6-12 month "intro" phase on our 2 crew aircraft. The pilots that have used it so far really like it. We're trying out different types of kneeboards and have ideas for "holders" mounted to the side of the cockpit as opposed to the yoke mount (too big, as you mentioned.)

I write cold wx corrections on a post-it note, so this doesn't change. Don't write on the plates, as it'll change for the next day/pilot, etc.

Ops Manual, Training Manuals & Paperwork, AIM, OFP, W&B, SOP and even QRH are on there. Saves a ton of space and weight (although in this implementation phase we don't see the benefit of that right away!) and works well in day, night, etc etc. Only problem I've seen is a bit of a glare when in direct sunlight, but that may have something to do with the screen protector.

amulbunny's random thoughts said...

I don't know if you can mark it up with virtual post-its, but you can play Plants versus Zombies on it and check your e-mail while waiting for maintenance to release the aircraft.

And practice your attack skills with Angry Birds. 8-)

Aaron said...

The US version doesn't include terminal area charts. You can get a 30 day free trial subscription to try it out. I assume that's true for Canada users as well but don't know for certain.

You do, of course, need an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

Cedarglen said...

For the PPP (Proper and Prudent Pilot) is is pretty easy: The electronic stuff is easy to use - once learned, but it can and will fail. The PPP has a Plan B. As much as I l ove these new things, stuff happens. A paper chart of plot plan can be torn or worn or have coffee stains. It can still be read. When the iPod's batter fails, or some other connection to its brain - do you have a Plan B?
I don't want to be a snit, but I don't want to darken that door without a complete Plan B. Am I missing something? -C.

Aluwings said...

The coolest part is that amendments happen at the click of a button! And the geo-referenced charts - talk about situational awareness! Too easy. Foreflight's multi-leg flight planning abilities are awesome, as are its weather briefing abilities and airport data presentations.

I've found in my personal use the iPad battery lasts all day and recharges quickly. But of course a conx in the flight deck would be prudent. For IFR ops I'd definitely want a second iPad available. (also allows multi-player games!)

For recreational/VFR flying I find Foreflight's lack of Canadian maps and the subscription prices for airport data, expensive. I've just downloaded AirNav Standard. For approx. $10 it looks promising. Generic maps are available to address the lack of Canadian charts.... A Pro version ($40ish), seems to include geo-referenced chart functions, logbook data keeping, and more, etc... Usefulness TBD.

Jez said...

I've learned a lot about the various iPad/iPhone apps including ForeFlight from this blog:

This guy seems to be an IFR pilot who really uses an iPad and its various apps ... he's got lots of good opinions and comments about the latest apps (and related gear such as mounts, kneeboards, etc.). Might be worth a read.

coreydotcom said...

Crazy birds is way cooler on the ipad! I agree with amulbunny!

D.B. said...

I agree with Cederglen. I use Foreflight on my GPS-enabled iPad, but I view it a supplementary, tertiary backup. It can be hard to read, it goes blank at inopportune moments, and is difficult to use in a cockpit environment and in the bumps. The battery can fail, and it can dropped and broken.

I print out the IAP's and arrival and departure procedures for my origin, destination and alternate(s), and carry them on my clipboard. My IFR GPS also has those procedures, but lacks certain info such as leg altitudes, MDA and DH, and even field altitude. The paper has those. In combination I have 99.9% of eventualities covered.

For the remaining 0.1%, my iPAD with Foreflight is helpful - it can show VFR and IFR charts with a little airplane symbol to show where I am (nice, but not a must-have with all the rest of the equipment), and it holds all the procedures for all the airports I MIGHT have to divert to. That's better a cheaper than carrying 50lbs of paper and paying $400/yr for the privilege.

DataPilot said...

I hope that pilots who rely on electronic apps for navigation -- on their iPad or otherwise -- also carry a non-electronic means of navigation (i.e., maps and approach plates).

I'll start out by saying that I'm an IT professional, and work in a 24/7, production-critical environment. I love computers, I use them every day, and I'm no technophobe. I wouldn't hesitate to use electronic charts. (That is, if I had a medical and could fly -- but that's a different story.) Anyway, ForeFlight is the type of application that gives IT folks nightmares. The impact of computing failures is potentially so grave.

For example, there is no such thing as a truly secure computer of any sort. iOS (the underlying operating system for iPhones and iPads) can be hacked and made inoperable just like any other computer operating system. The desirability and portability of the devices only exacerbates the problem. The ForeFlight web, application and database servers are similarly vulnerable, no matter how hardened the systems or capable the administrators. And that doesn't even take into account other, less sinister failures such as crashing computers, failed upgrades, broken network and/or 3G infrastructure, failover systems that don't, etc. etc.

The most super redundant computer systems can, and do, malfunction sometimes. I would continue to lug around at least basic charts and plates. Even if you never use them for their intended purpose, they make great sun shades.

borealone said...

I'm a fully committed EFB user, and have both Foreflight Canada and the Jeppesen FD app installed. I like Foreflight much better - it's cheaper, and way more versatile. The Jepp app is not yet ready for prime-time. Not only is the Jepp interface clunky, it's also buggy, doesn't have weather + the other useful data Foreflight provides. Only plus is that it does have prettier maps and plates, but that's not worth the extra $400/year to me.

I still carry paper enroute charts, but the nice light vellum printed Jeppesen Airway manual binder versions, not the big sunshades that NavCanada sells. I also have copies of frequently used approach plates tucked away on my kneeboard. I've never used them, but nice to know they are there.

My 'backup' strategy is simple - the same app and data runs not only on the iPad, but also on the iPhone. Keep them both updated and charged, and you've got a viable (if not ideal ) backup on your iPhone in the event that Murphy rides along.