ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot have slowly but surely become the dominant aviation apps over the last year. There are plenty of other quality apps out there – we also fly with WingX, Fltplan Go, Aerovie and many others – but the data we’ve seen suggests that this has become something of a Coke vs. Pepsi competition.
As a result, we often get asked to compare the two apps, or to suggest which one might have an advantage in one area. New pilots often struggle to choose which one they should use during training. Some experienced pilots have been flying with one app for a number of years and are wondering if the grass is greener on the other side.
There is no easy answer to these questions, because both apps have long feature lists and established companies behind them. This is also very subjective, because “easy to use” and “important features” both depend on pilot preferences. Having said that, we’re going to make an effort to point out the unique strengths of these two apps. This is based on a number of flights with different pilots over the last year, plus interviews, webinars, and surveys.
First, it’s worth listing all the things that are similar between the two apps. Both have grown up a lot in recent years, and the feature lists are long. There simply aren’t many gaping holes here, and we think almost any pilot will find the essential features in either one. You can compare specific features across multiple EFB apps in our app buyer’s guide.
Both Garmin Pilot and ForeFlight, in their own way, offer the following:
- Moving map navigation
- Terrain and obstacle alerts
- Complete IFR/VFR charts
- Data-driven/scalable maps
- Airport and FBO information
- Preflight weather briefings
- Flight plan filing
- Suggested ATC routing
- Scratch pads
- Weight and balance
- Digital logbook
- Synthetic vision
- ADS-B weather/traffic integration
This is an impressively long list, but there are a few differences to point out. These are mostly a matter of degree or style, but some of them are significant.
Ease of use. The most consistent feedback we hear about ForeFlight is that it’s easy to use. Certainly some pilots will disagree with this (and the app does have its confusing features), but in general pilots seem to find their way around the app faster. There are a number of features that are accessed simply by tapping on the screen, which makes it intuitive. We also think the Downloads page and map layer menu are easier to use than the equivalent features in Garmin Pilot.
Online flight planner. Over the last 12 months, ForeFlight has progressively built out their online flight planning tool to the point where it has most of the key features of the iOS app. This is free for ForeFlight subscribers, and it’s a nice benefit. If you’re on an FBO computer or a big-screen desktop computer at home, this does make pre-flight planning easy. All the information syncs automatically to your iPad, so the entire process is seamless. Garmin does not currently offer any online service.
Documents with cloud sync. Professional pilots in particular appreciate the Documents tab in ForeFlight. This is a digital library of PDFs, Word documents and other files, and all of it is kept in sync across a pilot’s devices automatically. Whether you’re a flight department dispatcher using it to keep SOP manuals current or a private pilot using it to view your POH in flight, there are a lot of uses for it. Garmin does not have a dedicated Documents feature.
Unique weather products. ForeFlight has clearly put a premium on weather tools in the app. While Garmin has the essential weather reports and forecasts, ForeFlight is always pushing the envelope. A few examples include: MOS data to offer forecasts for airports with no TAF, forecast discussions to add detail to text forecasts, and multiple radar products (base and composite). For instrument pilots and weather geeks, these additional tools help make a more informed go/no-go decision.
Track logs. After flying a flight, it’s often fun or instructive to review it from the relaxed setting of a pilot lounge. ForeFlight has a number of helpful capabilities that make this possible, most notably their automatic track logging feature. This records your flight – including speed, altitude, and route – then stores it in the app. When it’s convenient, you can review the flight online, share it with friends on social media, or debrief with a third party app like Google Earth or CloudAhoy.
Avionics integration. Garmin dominates the panel-mount avionics market, so it’s no surprise they excel in this area. Whether you want to send flight plan data from your iPad to a GTN 750 or pull SiriusXM weather from the panel to your iPad, Garmin Pilot can do it. There are also portable devices, including Garmin aera series GPSs and inReach series satellite communicators. As our recent flight test explains, Garmin Pilot can connect to a long list of external devices so your panel and portable devices are always on the same page. ForeFlight does connect to some panel-mount products (including Garmin’s FlightStream), but the list is shorter overall and there are more limitations.
Powerful split screen. Both ForeFlight and Garmin have a split screen mode, but Garmin’s is more robust. In addition to synthetic vision (ForeFlight’s only option), Garmin Pilot can also display terrain, flight plan, checklists, approach plates, and a scratch pad. For power users, this additional functionality can be a real time saver.
Nearest airport feature. Pilots have loved this feature since the early days of portable GPSs, and Garmin’s implementation in the app is superb. Tap NRST on the Map page and the app will zoom in on your closest airports, gray out the background clutter, and provide distance and direction information at a glance. It’s fast and powerful – just what you want in an emergency. ForeFlight does not have a nearest button in the app.
Android or iOS. While this feature won’t matter for all pilots, if you have a mixed-OS cockpit (maybe an Android phone and an iPad), Garmin Pilot will accommodate it nicely. Their Android app isn’t quite as full-featured as the iOS version, but it’s still quite good, with charts, moving map, flight plan filing, and much more. It’s our top pick among Android aviation apps.
European charts. For pilots in Europe, Garmin is a complete EFB app, including flight planning, weather, terrain, and charts. There are a variety of options, including VFR and IFR charts for Europe, SafeTaxi diagrams for Brazil, and even the option to view Jeppesen charts. ForeFlight has a worldwide basemap and complete Canadian coverage, but no charts for Europe and no Jepp charts.
As the feature list above makes clear, both of these apps are outstanding. Choosing one for your own flying is mostly a matter of matching the strengths to the type of flying you do. For example, flight departments love ForeFlight’s online planner and Documents feature; airplane owners with a stack full of Garmin avionics love Garmin Pilot’s deep integration. There just isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
The best answer is to try them both and see which one works for you. Both apps offer free trials that allow you to play around with the key features and decide what “easy to use” means in your cockpit.