One of the standout features of the iPad is its long battery life–a fully charged battery should last you about 8-10 hours (4-6 when using an external GPS or ADS-B Receiver). Even though most general aviation flights rarely last that long, it’s always a good idea to charge the iPad the night before your flight and start with a full battery.

Using the included wall charger

10W iPad charger

Full size iPads come with 10 or 12W chargers, to support the larger batteries.

One of the few accessories included with the iPad is a USB Power Adapter, which will charge the device from a 110V wall outlet. Easy–all wall chargers are the same, right? Unfortunately, no.

If you look closely at the specs on the adapter, you’ll see different amp ratings depending on the model of iPad you have. The iPad 1, 2 and 3 came standard with a 10 watt, 2.1 amp charger. The iPad 4 and the new iPad Air include a 2.4 amp charger. The iPad Mini, iPhone and iPod Touch all come with a 1 amp charger. The difference between 2.1 and 2.4 amps isn’t really worth worrying about, so we’ll just call them 1 amp and 2 amp chargers.

The full size iPads have large screens, which require a large battery to deliver that great battery life (this is especially true for Retina display iPads). The higher 2 amp charger allows the larger battery to charge more quickly than when using the traditional 1 amp adapter. It will take around 4-6 hours to charge a completely drained iPad battery, depending on the model.

A couple notes here:

  • You can still charge an iPad with a 1 amp USB power adapter, but it will take longer than 5 hours to fully charge.
  • The iPad’s 2 amp charger is still safe to use with your other USB devices (iPhone, iPod, etc.) and will not damage them. You can’t overcharge them.

Charging in the airplane with a cigarette lighter adapter

2 amp cigarette lighter plug

Make sure your cigarette lighter plugs are rated for 2 amps.

You can also use a cigarette lighter charger in your airplane to top off your iPad. This is cheap insurance, and we recommend one of these if the airplane you fly has a cigarette lighter plug. But pay close attention before buying any old USB charger, as you’ll want to make sure it provides 2 amps for optimum charging. Cheap cigarette lighter chargers usually only have 1 amp USB ports. Also check to see if it will run off 12 or 24V charging ports. Most airplanes, even those with 24V electrical systems, have 12V cigarette lighters–but not all.

The easiest solution is to buy a 12-24V, dual 2 amp charger – this will charge any device in any airplane. No thinking required. This model offers 2 USB ports, both rated at 2 amps, and runs on 12/24V. And if you need a replacement 110V home charger, this model also provides a 2-port USB configuration.

Charging from a computer

A third charging option is to connect your iPad to a computer that has a high-power USB 3.0 port (many new Macs and PCs have this). This will not charge as quickly as when using the wall power adapter, but can often be more convenient. If you see the note “Not Charging” in the iPad battery status, your computer most likely does not have a high-power USB port.

iPad Battery Backups

You can also charge the iPad when on the go with a portable backup battery. These are really handy, and not just in the airplane. Simply charge up the high-capacity battery pack and you have a go-anywhere device that can fully charge an iPad and extend its life by over 150%. This model has 5 USB ports, allowing you to charge multiple devices like an iPad and a Bluetooth GPS. And you can’t beat the price either–it’s available for under $100.

A more deluxe iPad battery backup option is this larger pack that includes USB, 12V and 110V plugs. It can power your iPad (or any number of other devices) for days, and while it is much larger and heavier than the one above, it’s still only 2″ tall.

Final tips

When in doubt, go with the higher amp charging device. 2 amps won’t hurt your iPad Mini or your iPhone, but 1 amp won’t be enough for your iPad. About the only thing that isn’t interchangeable is the physical connector. Newer devices like the iPad Air, Mini and iPhone 5/5S use the smaller Lightning connector; older devices use the larger 30-pin connector.

ipad connectors