I understand it is a dilemma to choose a pricey iPad as a pilot with various sizes and options available in the market.
It’s not a challenge to find an iPad, but if you consider some factors I mentioned in this article, you will invest in the most suitable iPad for your aviation career.
What are the factors that matter for a pilot’s iPad?
- What is your current stage as a pilot? A student pilot, private pilot, airline pilot?
- The screen size and the screen resolution of the iPad for ease of use inside the cockpit.
- The battery life of the iPad is crucial for long flights.
- The performance of the iPad to process robust aviation apps simultaneously.
- Adequate storage size to accommodate large files, including the Foreflight app.
- WiFi/WiFi + Cellular connectivity to track your position during the flight.
I’ll discuss these factors to identify the best iPad for pilots. Being a pilot comes with several responsibilities, and an iPad helps reduce stress if you know the proper use.
Thus each iPad has its benefits and obstacles for pilots of different stages. Currently, four models of iPads are available in the market for pilots:
- iPad mini: Best for pilots that fly small aircraft;
- iPad: Best for pilots that need better performing device;
- iPad Air: Performance with a larger screen for pilots that operate in instrument routes.
- iPad Pro: iPad with better processor and screen resolution for the best performance. A pilot requires a large flight deck to use it comfortably. Available in 11 inches & 12.9 inches variants.
What is the best iPad for pilots?
The best iPad for a pilot is the one a pilot finds most convenient during flights. By convenience, I mean using a device that aids a pilot’s flying performance and ensures safety.
I recommend choosing an iPad according to the airplane you fly frequently. The iPad for aviation use shouldn’t be too big for your cockpit, nor too small.
iPad mini for pilots.
The latest iPad mini is an 8.3 inches tablet. The smallest variant among all the iPad available. Can you guess who needs this iPad? I believe all the student pilots today must carry an iPad mini.
The latest iPad mini is not behind at all in performance. It can amply process all the apps required for pilots.
The best part is its compact size, making it perfect for small cockpit use.
Trainee pilots mostly fly small aircraft. Small airplanes have tiny cockpits, and efficient movement is challenging with a giant iPad on your face.
Primarily, you can mount the iPad mini six during pilot training on the yoke without complications.
As a student pilot, you don’t need ample internal storage to use the iPad mini. You can use a 64 GB iPad mini and upgrade in the future.
Instead of going big on the internal storage, get yourself an iPad mini with WiFi + cellular connectivity.
Student pilots are often on a budget, and choosing an iPad mini with 64 GB internal storage and WiFi + Cellular would save some money.
The benefit of having an iPad with cellular connectivity is that you don’t need to buy an external GPS tracker. The iPads with cellular connectivity have a built-in GPS tracker, which is far more accurate than an external GPS tracker in position tracking.
iPad for pilots.
The iPad has 10.2 inches screen size and is performance-wise similar to the iPad mini.
The iPad is for those pilots who need a bigger screen to read their maps and charts but don’t want to spend big. The iPad is inexpensive of all the iPad variants. It’s interesting how Apple cut some costs though it has a larger screen.
The screen is not big enough to cram up inside a cockpit but enough to accommodate bigger maps.
I thought the iPad might have poorer performance than other variants, but it can efficiently run all the essential flying apps.
I understand pilots in general aviation fly frequently and mostly in small aircraft.
Buy the iPad if you are a student or a passionate general aviation pilot and want something big.
However, don’t go cheap, but purchase the iPad variant with 128 GB of internal storage and cellular connectivity.
I understand that if you buy an iPad as a general aviation pilot, you will be using this iPad for a long time. Thus buying something with sizeable internal storage would be beneficial in the long run.
The iPad is less costly than others, so maximizing its offers would be best.
iPad Air for pilots.
If you have extra money to spare as a general aviation pilot, then iPad Air is your option. The 10.9 inches of iPad Air is more significant than the iPad and iPad mini six.
Assuming you are a charter pilot and fly a larger aircraft than the average, the iPad Air is your best bet.
Starting at 599 USD, it’s not the cheapest.
However, the Apple M1 processor in the 2022 iPad air yields the best performance. Though all other iPad variants can quickly load heavy aviation apps, I assume the iPad Air would give you a better experience.
If you are a pilot that frequently operates on instrument routes, and iPad Air suits your budget, you shall get one.
With 10 hours of battery life, the iPad Air is usable for most charter flights.
If you are reluctant to pay a hefty price for the iPad Pro versions, you won’t be disappointed with the iPad Air 2022.
The iPad Air is available in 64 GB and 256 GB variants. Purchase the 256 GB variant with WiFi + Celluar connectivity because you will use the iPad Air for years.
If you don’t plan to upgrade any time soon and need robust performance with extended battery life for your instrument flights, then iPad Air is your best bet.
I see that iPad Air is not always available online or everywhere, so the best alternative to iPad Air is the iPad pro version I discussed in the next section.
If iPad Air is unavailable, don’t buy the iPad mini or iPad because you won’t be happy with the screen size and performance during long instrument flights.
iPad Pro for pilots.
I think iPad Pro variants and the iPad Air are in the same ballpark performance-wise. The significant difference is the size of the screen and the price point.
I guess the price point of the iPad Pro models is what makes it available everywhere. With a hefty price tag, not everyone is willing to spend the extra dime for a large screen.
The two variants of the iPad Pro are 11 inches and 12.9 inches. These are the iPad variants that airline pilots pick.
There are two reasons why airline pilots prefer iPad Pro variants:
- Airline pilots don’t have issues with the budget for buying an iPad;
- They don’t need to compromise the size of their iPad due to a spacious flight deck in airliners.
So ask yourself, before buying an iPad Pro, where will you use it?
If budget isn’t an issue for the pilot buying an iPad Pro, you must select the device with WiFi + Cellular connectivity.
Regarding the internal storage, you can’t find iPad Pro below 128 GB and up to 2 TB.
Don’t run out of space on your iPad Pro saving tons of materials, such as:
- Company manuals;
- Pdf files;
- Essential apps.
With 10 hours of battery life, the iPad Pro is excellent for most long-haul instrument flights.
The iPad Pro is ideal for all pilots operating in more extensive flight decks. Yet, before buying this robust device for cockpit use, you have two size variant options. If a large screen is all you need, go for the 12.9 inches iPad Pro variant.
I want to discuss other matters for pilots to view before buying an iPad.
What is your actual purpose for using the iPad for flying?
Student pilots and private pilots mostly use the iPad for navigation. An iPad with the Foreflight app is a fantastic tool for navigating airspace.
A small screen may not be suitable for loading all your maps, and you will have to zoom in for a more unobstructed view.
iPad is not only a fancy tool you buy, but a pilot must buy it for actual flying purposes. An iPad enhances your performance inside the cockpit. So purchase an iPad that will serve the purpose flawlessly.
Do you want an iPad that you can use throughout your professional pilot career?
You need space in your iPad to store various Aviation APPS and valuable files for flying.
The best iPad for pilots must have adequate internal storage space to save all the required documents a pilot needs to read.
The Foreflight app occupies roughly 20 GB of space. The app sizes are getting bigger by the day, so if you view your iPad as an investment, then plan to use it for a long time.
A pilot doesn’t merely save flying applications or files on the iPad. You may save various pictures and videos that you capture during your flight.
Commercial pilots should keep track of many files and folders. As a student pilot, you don’t read many manuals or charts.
However, an iPad with more significant memory would be essential as a professional pilot.
Remember these before buying an iPad:
- It is an investment, and you will use the iPad as long as updates are available for your version and it does the job without interruption.
A device running out of space might freeze while loading heavy applications, which would hinder your smooth performance and jeopardize the safety of your flight.
Why is an iPad with cellular connectivity essential?
The most practical application for iPad is the Foreflight app for navigation. And to locate the aircraft’s position accurately, a pilot needs an external GPS tracker.
- An iPad with only WiFi connectivity doesn’t have a GPS tracker and can’t detect the location without a WiFi connection;
- However, the iPad with cellular connectivity has a built-in GPS chip. Thus the pilot does not have to buy an external GPS tracker;
- An iPad with a built-in GPS tracker displays the position far more accurately and quickly than an iPad with only WiFi connections.
You do not have to turn on cellular connectivity for the satellite to discover your position. The satellite needs only a GPS chip in your device to determine your precise location on the map.
You can find your location and en route details during the flight using the Foreflight app.
Likely, you won’t be able to use data connectivity up in the Air. Hence keeping your iPad in airplane mode is ideal.
Nevertheless, pairing WiFi-only iPads with an external GPS tracker will allow the same aviation-related features as the iPad with cellular connectivity. Similarly, an iPad’s cellular model can be a life savior if an external GPS device fails.
- Pros and cons of flying with an iPad;
- Which is the best iPad for flight school?;
- Best aviation apps for pilots.