The electronic logbook is hardly a new invention; it traces its roots back to the early days of Excel spreadsheets. But while the desktop computer offered some advantages over paper, the move to mobile devices is what has really made electronic logbooks useful. Here, we’ll review why you might want to make the switch, what apps are available and some tips for getting started.
Before diving into the electronic logbook world, it’s fair to ask why you might want to. Are there real benefits to making the switch?
We think so. Many of the pilots at Sporty’s have ditched paper logbooks in the last two years, and no one has regretted it. This isn’t just a gadget thing–there are real advantages to using an electronic logbook:
- Convenience–Since most of us fly with an iPad or smartphone, logging your flights is fast and easy. There’s no need to carry around a heavy logbook; just tap some basic data into your favorite logbook app after the flight and you’re done.
- Backup–Losing your paper logbook is serious problem. For recreational pilots, it’s a hassle to try to recreate all your flights. For pilots working towards a career in the cockpit, missing logbook pages can be nothing short of a disaster. With logbook apps, it’s fast and easy to keep a complete backup of all your flights.
- Reporting–If you’ve ever filled out an annual insurance renewal form, you know just how cumbersome a paper logbook can be. Many of these forms ask for things we don’t keep track of, like total time in retractable gear airplanes or total time in a particular model of airplane. With an electronic logbook, you can create almost any report you can imagine. Time in single engine, piston, retractable airplanes at night in the last 90 days? No problem.
- Multimedia–One of the best ways to use a logbook is as a flying journal. Beyond the essentials like duration of flight and number of landings, logging details like which passengers came along or what you saw can make your logbook a great way to relive fond memories. With logbook apps, you can really take this to the next level by saving pictures with each entry. Some logbooks also allow you to export your data into different formats, including a Google Earth map.
One final question you may have is whether a completely electronic logbook is legal? The short answer is: absolutely. FAR 61.51 deals with logging flight time, and there’s no requirement for this to be done on paper as long as your entries meet the requirements of the FAR. Most airlines have no problem accepting electronic logbooks during an interview, but if you would like to have a paper copy of your logs, it’s easy to print them out.
There are a number of logbook apps available, ranging from basic spreadsheets to full-featured aviation tools. Here are four of the most popular:
- LogTen Pro–The most complete and polished logbook app, LogTen Pro is our pick for top electronic logbook (you can read our review from last year here). This is a full-featured logbook app, and it’s completely self-contained on the iPad (no need to sync to a computer). There are plenty of options for custom reports and even airline duty tracking. Also includes a digital signature feature that allows flight instructors to sign off a flight. Available for iOS and Mac.
- Logbook Pro–This was one of the pioneers in electronic logbooks, with a powerful Windows-based program that offers almost any report you can think of. Logbook Pro also offers free apps for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and Nook. These are easy-to-use logbooks, but they require syncing with the desktop-based program to unlock the full potential.
- ZuluLog–This is a very popular online logbook, with a number of unique features. ZuluLog now offers mobile apps, and while they are obviously intended to sync with the online version of ZuluLog, they do work well as a stand-alone logbooks. Available for iOS and Android.
- Safelog–Another popular online logbook solution, Safelog offers a huge variety of software options, from PC and Mac to mobile devices. They also offer logbook options for European, Canadian and Australian pilots. Popular features include custom reports, powerful graph tools, Google Earth maps and robust export/print options. Available for iOS and Android.
If you’re sold on the concept of a logbook app, the biggest hurdle is probably the thought of moving all your flights from paper to electronic. For an experienced pilot, it can feel overwhelming: do I have to type in 10,000 hours one at a time? The good news is there are many options. Depending on your type of flying and your preferences, going electronic can be a 2-minute job or a more involved process. Here are three solutions to consider:
- Hire a service–If you’d like to have each entry in your paper logbook moved over to your new app, line by line, there are services that will do this for a fee. Logbook Pro offers one, starting at $200 for 500 entries. It’s not cheap, but it’s a lot more pleasant than doing it yourself.
- Make one big line entry–On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the option to total up all your paper logbook numbers (including each column) and make one giant entry to start off your electronic logbook. This won’t give you flight-by-flight detail going back, but it is a fast way to keep your totals accurate.
- Keep both paper and electronic for a while–This hybrid approach is actually what I did, and is a pragmatic way to make the switch. I had about 2000 hours of flying to move over, and I was not going to enter each of those flights. So I made one big entry, then I just started logging time in both my paper logbook and my iPad. After a year, I went completely paperless. At that point, I could go back 12 months in detail (which is usually all the insurance form asks for), and I had all of my total time.
Whichever approach you take, be sure to keep a detailed logbook, full of notes and pictures. There’s nothing more enjoyable than spending a bad weather afternoon reliving old flights–well, other than flying them.