One of the first considerations for any pilot flying with an iPad is how to secure the tablet in the cockpit. It’s not technically required for Part 91 flying – you could just put your iPad on your lap – but it’s a good idea to consider a more serious approach. This will improve both convenience and safety.
The most popular solutions are an iPad kneeboard or a mount, and there have never been more options. Read our article on choosing the right mount for more information. For aircraft owners, though, a panel mount may be more convenient, since the tablet will be right in the normal instrument scan. It can also be left in the airplane, so there’s less gear to carry around between flights.
Panel mounts for portable products have lived in a bit of a gray area for years now, going back to Garmin 396 GPSs in the early 2000s. Many pilots concluded that such mounts are only allowed in experimental airplanes, which is not necessarily true (a field approval is an option, although not necessarily an easy one). Fortunately, some new rules are clarifying the options for certified airplanes and some new mounts are making it easier to install an iPad in the panel.
The first place to turn for guidance on Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) is Advisory Circular 91-78, which applies to pilots flying under Part 91. It defines a tablet that is mounted to the aircraft as a Class 2 EFB, but some of the language in the AC seems to suggest such a mount needs to be PMA’d.
Since AC 91-78 hasn’t been updated in 10 years, it’s worth looking at AC 120-76C for more information. This only applies to large airplanes and commercial operators (pilots flying under Part 121, 125, 135, 91F or 91K), and we should note that this AC is in the process of being revised in a fairly significant way. However, it has some good advice for pilots installing a Class 2 EFB: “They must be capable of being easily removed from or attached to their mounts by flightcrew personnel. Class 2 EFBs can be temporarily connected to an existing aircraft power supply for battery recharging. They may connect to aircraft power, data ports (wired or wireless), or installed antennas, provided those connections are installed in accordance with AC 20-173. (Portable Class 2 EFB components are not considered to be part of aircraft type design; i.e., not in the aircraft TC or STC.)”
There’s one more document to read: AC 20-173, which covers “Installation of Electronic Flight Bag Components. This AC is not mandatory, but it also offers some good ideas about safely using an EFB in the cockpit. One key point says, “Positioning must not obstruct visual or physical access to aircraft controls and displays, flightcrew ingress or egress, or external vision.” Also, “If the EFB display is installed, the display must be easily viewed and the controls easily reached without requiring major adjustments to body position.”
It’s worth remembering that such a determination is made by the operator of the aircraft, not a mechanic or an FAA inspector: “Evaluation of a portable EFB display is accomplished by the operator in accordance with AC 91-78 or AC 120-76.”
Even after reading these ACs, there’s a lot to chew on. Fortunately, the FAA’s new Non-Required Safety Enhancing Equipment (NORSEE) policy has made this a lot easier. NORSEE is the FAA’s way of improving safety without getting bogged down in lengthy certification efforts. If a device helps the pilot fly safer, and its failure doesn’t constitute a major problem, the FAA wants pilots to be able to install it quickly and inexpensively. In the last six months, two EFB mounts have been approved under NORSEE. The good news is that any mount that meets this standard is considered a minor alteration, so it requires only a logbook entry – that is, no STC or field approval.
One final note: remember that this approval is just about the mount. The iPad remains a source for supplemental information and is not certified in any way. You should not be flying in IMC based on your iPad’s backup attitude indicator!
There are plenty of panel mounts for tablets, but two companies stand out. Guardian Avionics, maker of a popular carbon monoxide detector, has an appealing line of panel mounts for most models of iPhone and iPad – and all are NORSEE approved. These are flush-mounted cradles, so you’ll need to cut a hole in your panel, but the result is a clean and professional installation. The cradle is spring-loaded, so you can quickly insert or remove your iPad, even though the tablet stays quite secure. There are also cut-outs for power and audio cables, plus a hole for a cooling fan if you want to ensure your tablet runs cool.
The iFDR mounts start at $129 for the iPhone and goes up to $249 for the iPad Pro 12.9″ model.
The newest option is from MyGoFlight, who offers a full line of iPad mounts and accessories. Their NORSEE-approved UltraThin panel mounts are a little different than the iFDR mounts, since they screw on top of the instrument panel. It’s fairly low profile, but not the flush-mount look of the iFDR. The advantage of this approach is that there is no need to cut a hole in the panel, which reduces install time and complexity. There are still slots for a charging cable and an audio cable if desired.
MyGoFlight also says the cradle is upgradeable – the screw hole pattern will stay the same on all future models, so even if there’s a new size iPad (which just might happen this year), you simply remove the old cradle and screw on a new one. This is a major benefit, in our opinion, since the ability to upgrade is a key reason to choose portable avionics.
The MyGoFlight UltraThin mount is available for iPad Mini and iPad Air/Pro 9.7″ for $199.
If you’ve been considering a more permanent installation of your iPad, there has never been a better time to do it.