Charging your iPad: what you need to know

One of the standout features of the iPad is its long battery life – a fully charged battery should last you about 9 – 10 hours (more like 4 – 6 when using a wireless accessory and when the screen is on full bright). 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. In fact, running out of battery power is about the only problem we’ve had in ten years of flying with the iPad.

Apple charger

Make sure you’re charging your iPad with at least a 10 or 12-watt charger.

Using the included wall charger

One of the few accessories included with the iPad is a USB Power Adapter, which will charge the device from a wall outlet. It’s worth taking close look at the adapter and noting the specs to understand what they mean. Here’s a quick rundown of what is included with each iPad model:

iPad Pro 11″ and 12.9″ – 18-watt USB-C power adapter

iPad Air (3rd gen), iPad 10.2″ and iPad Mini (5th gen) – 12-watt (2.4 amp) USB power adapter

Previous-generation iPads – 10-watt (2.1 amp) USB power adapter

Previous-generation iPad Minis – 5-watt (1 amp) USB power adapter

Understanding your power adapter’s specs is important since most iPhone, iPod Touch and other replacement USB power adapters are typically rated at 5 watts and 1 amp. The higher 2.1/2.4 amp charger allows the large battery in the iPad to charge more quickly than when using the traditional 1 amp adapter (it will take around 4 – 5 hours to charge a completely drained iPad battery).

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 12 or 18-watt charger is still safe to use with your other USB devices (iPhone, iPod, etc.) and will not damage them.
  • You can even use your laptop’s higher-wattage power adapter (some are rated up to 87W) to charge your devices if needed.
  • For additional convenience when charging multiple devices on the go, consider a model with dual 2.4 amp charging ports.

Fast Charging Options

Newer Apple devices support a technology called fast charging, which is designed to charge your device up to 50% in just 30 minutes. The iPad Pro and iPhone Pro 11 support this right out of the box with the included 18W USB-C power adapter. Fast charging is also supported on a wide variety of iPhones and iPads released in the past few years. You just need one of Apple’s 18-watt (or higher) USB-C power adapters, or a third-party charger that supports USB Power Delivery, and a USB-C to lightning cable. The following devices support fast charging:

iPad Air (3rd Generation)
iPad mini (5th Generation)
iPad Pro 11-inch
iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd and 4th Generation)
iPad Pro 10.5-inch
iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2nd Generation)
iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st Generation)

iPhone 11 Pro
iPhone 11 Pro Max
iPhone 11
iPhone XS
iPhone XS Max
iPhone XR
iPhone X
iPhone 8
iPhone 8 Plus

Charging in the airplane with a cigarette lighter adapter

Flight Gear USB charger

A dual 3-amp USB charger is an essential cockpit accessory.

You can also use a 12-24V cigarette lighter charger in your airplane to charge your iPad. Pay close attention before just buying any USB charger though, as you’ll want to make sure it provides at least 2.1 amps for optimum charging. This model offers two USB ports, both rated at 3 amps, and works on both 12V and 24V electrical systems. It also has a built-in screen that displays battery voltage – a handy backup.

Charging in the airplane with an installed USB port

If you own your airplane, you should consider a permanently installed, certified charging port. These are generally more reliable than portable devices, since they don’t rely on a touchy cigarette lighter charger. We like the Stratus Power from Appareo and Garmin’s GSB 15 USB Charger, which are both TSO’d and include dual USB ports. The Stratus Power ports are rated at 2.5 amps, while both ports on the Garmin are rated for 3 amps.

Charging from a computer

A fourth charging option is to connect your iPad to a computer that has a high-power USB  (most newer 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. We like the Flight Gear models, which were designed for pilots and feature both USB-A and USB-C charging ports. There are two sizes available, the Small Flight Gear Battery Pack (10,000 mAh) and the Large Flight Gear Battery Pack (20,000 mAh).

These are great for airplanes without an electrical system or a cigarette lighter plug, and they can also be useful outside the cockpit. For even more utility, check out the Solar Powered Flashlight, which includes a 5,000 mAh battery and USB port to charge your iPad.

“Accessory not supported”

If you see this notification on your iPad or iPhone, it usually means the charging device isn’t putting out enough juice to charge the iOS device’s battery. If you’ve double-checked that it’s the right charging plug (and cable), try cleaning out the Lightning port on your device. Sometimes dust or other debris can interrupt the connection. Also, try restarting your device.

5 replies
  1. Chris
    Chris says:

    Any suggestions for permanently-installed products to charge USB-C devices in the airplane? Only one I see so far is the True Blue TA360.

  2. Josh Khoo
    Josh Khoo says:

    This is a terribly out of touch article lacking in details. Especially with USB-C being used, power delivery becomes so important especially because the Apple’s iPad chargers are underpowered. Many power banks also cannot deliver enough power fast enough.

    Details about wattage for power banks and perhaps the maximum wattage an iPad can handle for fast charging should be added. Supposedly the iPads currently on sale can take use 30W to charge fast.

    • Bret Koebbe
      Bret Koebbe says:

      Hi Josh,

      We like to think of the USB-C fast-charging (Power Delivery) feature as “nice-to-have”, but is no means a necessity for all iPad owners. And not all iPads currently on sale support fast charging – only the iPad Pro, Air and Mini (5th Gen).

      Apple makes a variety of fast-charging blocks for iPads and MacBook computers that range in wattage from 18W up to 87W, and you can any of these to fast-charge compatible iPads. For example, we hear from pilots regularly who travel with an 87W Apple USB-C charger for their MacBook and use it to charge their iPad Pro as well.


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