How to use your favorite EFB app to save money on fuel

There’s little question that the digital chart revolution and subscription-free ADS-B weather led to the iPad’s success in aviation. But in addition to weather, today’s iPad apps can also provide you with a wealth of data to assist in fuel planning. There are a lot of variables that come into play here, including winds aloft, airplane performance, airport service availability, and of course fuel prices. Here we’re going to look at series of tips to help you use your iPad to make the most of this decision-making process and reduce your fuel expenses.

1. View fuel prices on the moving map. This is probably the single most helpful tool when you need to plan a fuel stop on a longer trip or decide on an airport at your destination. In many of the apps you can select a Fuel Price overlay (either 100LL or Jet A) on the moving map and display this info right along with your flight plan. This takes the guesswork out of the equation to make sure you’re getting the best deal on fuel.

2. Find self-service fuel and operating hours in the FBO directory. Finding an airport selling 100LL for less than $3/gallon along your route may seem like an incredible deal, but it’s completely useless if the FBO is closed when you get there. Make it a point to check out the FBO directory in your app after finding the price on the map to verify operating hours and determine whether it’s full or self-service price.

3. Create a detailed performance profile for your airplane. Apps like ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot allow you to create custom performance profiles for the aircraft you fly most often. Here you can enter basic values like true airspeed and fuel burn for cruise, but you can also go further and enter optional data for climbs and descents, including true airspeed, climb/descent rate and fuel burn. Take the time to fill out these profiles in their entirety so that the app will more accurately estimate fuel burn for the entire flight based on your winds aloft at the selected altitude. It’ll also make the altitude advisor feature more accurate since it will account for climb/descent speed and fuel burn using greater precision (see tip 5).

4. Use pre-configured performance profiles. Both Fltplan.com and ForeFlight offer impressive performance profiles for dozens of airplanes. These pre-loaded numbers eliminate a lot of the tedious data-entry required when setting up your own profile, and are often more accurate. In some of our testing, actual flight time and fuel burn numbers were within 1% of actual. In ForeFlight, you’ll need to subscribe to the Performance Plus plan, which will give you access to the library of aircraft profiles; detailed profiles are included with FltPlan Go. Using a more accurate profile will help you carry the right amount of fuel, tankering more when prices are cheap and buying less when it’s expensive.

5. Use the altitude advisor to find the optimum altitude. ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot users can take advantage of the altitude advisor tool to help save fuel. In ForeFlight, this is accessed from the Altitude button at the lower left of the Route Editor in the Maps tab. In Garmin Pilot, go to the Trip Planning page and tap on the altitude block to view the pop-up window. This will display the total headwind/tailwind component, time en route and fuel burn for your current flight plan for various altitudes based on the active aircraft profile. This can help you determine the optimum altitude based on the winds aloft to get the best possible groundspeed and lowest fuel burn.

6. Use the graphical winds aloft to determine optimum routing. In addition to using the altitude advisor, consider viewing the graphical winds aloft points on the moving map along with your flight plan to determine routing that will provide the best tailwind (or minimize headwind). With ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot you can display these wind barbs starting at 3,000′ MSL and increase that altitude well into the flight levels. We’ve found this to be very useful when flying across low pressure systems to visualize and make the most of the counter-clockwise rotation.

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7. Store your cruise performance charts in the document manager. If you fly the same airplane day in and day out you probably have your basic performance numbers committed to memory. But if you fly less frequently or find yourself using round numbers for performance planning, you’d probably benefit from a periodic review of the performance charts in your POH. The problem, though, is that these are never around when you’re flight planning, because they’re stored in an inconvenient location like your office or in the airplane. Change up your routine by taking a few pictures of these charts with your iPad’s camera and store them in your app’s document manager. Now you’ll always have this data at your fingertips and you’ll be surprised at the fuel savings you can achieve by reducing power by just a small percent when flying by the numbers.

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8. Use weight & balance tools to optimize fuel load. Along the same lines as the last tip, many of us estimate the loading on each flight and tend to err on the conservative side during flight planning. Instead of this “ballpark” approach, consider using one of the weight and balance apps available (including the ones built right into ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot, and FltPlan Go) to more accurately determine airplane loading. This will allow you to know precisely know how much fuel you load on the airplane and take advantage of situations when the fuel price is favorably low.

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9. Use Garmin Pilot’s Fuel Planner tool. How much fuel to buy? That’s partially determined by how much you need, but also by the price at your current location. Garmin’s Fuel Planner tool, accessed from the Trip Planning page, does the math for you, calculating how much fuel you need to add and how much it will cost at posted rates. This is a great way to compare different fuel scenarios.

10. For turbine pilots, use JetFuelX to shop for the best price. If you burn Jet A, you know how widely prices can vary depending on the fuel card you carry. Whether it’s the UV Air card, the CAA card, or the Everest card, it’s not as simple as checking the posted price. Until recently, this was a time-consuming process, but with ForeFlight’s acquisition of JetFuelX things are much easier. Simply create a free JetFuelX profile online, then load in your card memberships. Now when you check fuel price in the ForeFlight app, you’ll see the contract fuel prices at each location, in addition to the list price. This can end up saving you hundreds of dollars, so it’s worth a little time setting everything up.

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Apple debuts all-new iPad Pro models

It was pretty clear from the design and interface changes in iOS 12 that Apple was laying the groundwork for the next generation of iPad, by tweaking the location of the clock and status bar at the top and adding new gestures that allow you to operate the device without the touching the home button. We finally learned the details of the new iPad models today at Apple’s special event in New York, where they announced two all-new iPad Pro models and released the iOS 12.1 software update.

iPad Pro 11″

Apple has sold over 400 million iPads since the iPad 1 hit the market in 2010 and it is used by nearly every industry around the world. It is considered required equipment by most pilots in the cockpit, so the aviation industry tends to pay special attention when new models are introduced.

Apple introduced two new iPad models today, available in 11″ and 12.9″ screen sizes (sorry, no new iPad mini). The all-new 11″ iPad Pro is pretty impressive, since it retains a similar footprint to the 9.7″ iPad and 10.5″ iPad Pro, but incorporates a larger, edge-to-edge 11″ diagonal screen.

Like with the iPhone X series, the iPad Pro 11″ eliminates the home button and relies on gestures to control the device. It also incorporates the TrueDepth camera at the top with FaceID to allow you to unlock the screen simply by looking at it. FaceID and gesture-based interactions have been well-received by consumers on the iPhone X, so they should work just as well on the iPad. In our opinion it’s a step in the right direction, freeing up more space for the display and simplifying interactions, two big plusses when using the iPad in the cockpit. There’s also no mechanical button to break.

The new iPad Pro of course includes an upgraded processor, called the A12X Bionic. It relies on an 8-core processor that is 35% faster than the 10.5″ iPad Pro, which was no slouch. When paired up with the new high-performance graphics processor, Apple claims the iPad Pro is more powerful than 92% of the laptops on the market.

The next big change is Apple’s switch from their proprietary lightning connector to the universal USB Type-C (the same type of charging port found on Stratus 2S and 3). This is a great move that opens up lots of connectivity options, including the ability to interface with a 5K monitor, connect DSLR cameras and more. And since USB-C can provide 2-way power, you can even connect your iPhone to the iPad with a USB-C to lightning cable and charge your iPhone from the iPad battery.

Compared to the iPad Pro 10.5″, the iPad Pro 11″ is .2 mm thinner, 3mm narrower in width, but 4 mm taller in height. We’ll report back next week after some testing out existing kneeboards and mounts to determine compability.

iPad Pro 12.9″

Alongside the iPad Pro 11″, Apple also redesigned the larger iPad Pro 12.9″. We tested the original iPad Pro 12.9″ last year and came to the conclusion that it was flat out too large for the cockpit. Thanks to the edge-to-edge screen design, the footprint of the new 12.9″ iPad Pro is considerably smaller. It’s about the same size as a standard sheet of paper and 1 mm thinner than the previous 12.9″ model, making for a 25% reduction in total volume. This may actually fit well in larger cockpits for pilots looking for more screen real-estate. We’ll have a full PIREP on this model next week after we get a chance to fly with it.

New iPad Pencil and Keyboard Folio

To round out the new product updates, Apple debuted an upgraded Apple Pencil for precise interactions with the screen. A new feature allows you to magnetically attach it to the iPad bezel, which would be helpful in the cockpit to make sure it doesn’t fall out of reach when not in use. Even better, the Pencil automatically charges from the iPad bezel when magnetically attached. The Pencil also provides additional control in compatible apps that allow you to tap the Pencil remotely to activate pre-programmed actions on the screen.

The original pencil was useful for copying clearances in the cockpit, but the lack of a suitable mounting option and the cumbersome charging setup made it a struggle. The new model should make it a legitimate option for pilots.

There is also a new Smart Keyboard Folio that connects via the iPad Pro’s smart connector, for those that prefer a physical keyboard. This folds up compactly when not in use and protects the front screen.

The new 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro are available to order now and come in silver and space gray finishes in 64GB, 256GB and 512GB configurations as well as a new 1TB option. The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 (US) for the Wi-Fi model and $949 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $999 (US) for the Wi-Fi model and $1,149 (US) for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model. Deliveries begin next week.

The second generation Apple Pencil will be available for $129 (US). The new Smart Keyboard Folio is available in space gray for $179 (US) for the 11-inch iPad Pro and $199 (US) for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with layouts for over 30 languages, including simplified Chinese, French, German, Japanese and Spanish.

A wide assortment of Apple-designed USB-C accessories including adapters and cables also support iPad Pro and are available, including a new USB-C to SD Card Reader and USB-C to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter.

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Reviewing the Performance Plus plan in ForeFlight

When ForeFlight introduced its Performance Plus subscription level last year, many pilots assumed it was aimed at professional pilots flying turbine airplanes. In fact, ForeFlight’s most expensive plan has found a lot of fans among private pilots flying piston airplanes too. Here’s a look at the growing list of features, and how they work.

Performance profiles

The best feature of Performance Plus is one you barely see: ForeFlight’s database of detailed performance profiles. These go far beyond basic cruise speed and fuel burn numbers. In fact, a team of performance experts enters OEM-specific data for a variety of altitudes, weights and temperatures for each airplane type. These aren’t only for jets – the models for Cessnas and SR22s is just as good, and ForeFlight is adding new ones all the time. The result is better planning on the Maps and Flights pages.

You can’t directly edit the models, but you can fine tune them if you find your airplane doesn’t hit the numbers dead-on. In our experience, this isn’t needed. For example, on a recent 1,000 mile flight (out and back on two separate days) in a Pilatus PC-12, the actual fuel burn and time en route were within 0.5% of ForeFlight’s estimate. Such precision is particularly helpful on heavier and thirstier airplanes, since you can be much more precise with fuel planning and range/payload calculations.

Enhanced preflight planning

ForeFlight’s basic flight planning tools are excellent, but Performance Plus subscribers do have access to a few extra features. From the Maps page, tap on the Route Advisor to bring up suggested routes, including ForeFlight’s most efficient routing from their AviationCloud engine. This considers dozens of data points to suggest the best route and altitude. Performance Plus subscribers will also see a button at the top right that allows you to specify your altitude range. This helps to exclude high altitude routes if you’re flying a piston airplane (or vice versa).

Fuel policies and payload checks

This one was a little clunky at first, but it has been improved a lot and now it’s one of the app’s best pre-flight features. From the Flights page, after entering the route and altitude, you can specify a preferred fuel policy to automatically calculate the right fuel load. Options include: minimum fuel required to complete the trip safely (including reserve), a custom amount of extra fuel on top of that minimum amount, maximum fuel (given your weight constraints), a set amount of fuel on landing, or a manual fuel quantity set by the pilot.

Then the app will show all the details, from taxi fuel to how much is required to fly to the alternate. This is also a great place to play around with scenarios – how much more fuel can we take if we have only two passengers? Finally, the app continuously runs weight checks and alerts you if your current scenario will put you over gross weight or zero fuel weight.

 

JetFuelX prices

ForeFlight’s acquisition of JetFuelX in January 2016 didn’t receive a lot of attention, but it now looks like a very savvy move. This free service allows you to consolidate all your contract fuel cards, including Avfuel, UVAir, Corporate Aircraft Association, and more. Instead of having to use multiple website or make phone calls, you can view your actual prices right in the app. From the Maps or Airports page, tap on an FBO, then choose the JetFuelX tab. You’ll see prices for each of your cards, making it a great way to compare options at a glance. You can even submit fuel releases quite easily from the website.

Trip Assistant

This feature grew out of an internal ForeFlight request, to answer questions like, “What time do we need to leave the office in Dallas to make that meeting in Atlanta at 3pm?” Sure, you might know the flying part of this question, but what about ground transportation? Now it’s all consolidated into one tool.

Log in online at plan.foreflight.com and click Trip Assistant on the left. Simply enter your departure address (home, office, etc. – not airport) and your destination address, plus what time you want to either leave or arrive. The search fields are smart, so if you only know a partial address or a business name, that’s usually enough. ForeFlight will choose the best airports based on driving time and available services, then calculate when you’ll arrive at your final destination. This includes traffic and the option for “stay time” at each end, so it’s very realistic. You can also plan a fuel stop en route.

D-ATIS and PDC

The newest addition is the ability to receive IFR clearances before engine start via text message and email – Pre-Departure Clearances, or PDC. Airlines have used this feature for years, but through complicated FMS datalink services. Now, ForeFlight users can use the same convenient process, but without the expensive avionics. A PDC messages includes everything you’d get on a regular radio clearance, like route, altitude, and transponder code, and are sent roughly 30 minutes before your proposed departure time. When you receive a PDC, you do not need to contact clearance delivery.

It’s fairly easy to set up: email ForeFlight to register the tail number of the airplane that will use PDC and then be sure to file all flight plans in ForeFlight. The PDC is tied to the airplane, not the person, although whoever files it will get the text message and email. It’s worth noting that once you sign up for PDC, you must use it at the airports where it is offered (here’s the full list of airports). That means everyone who files flight plans for that tail number needs to have a Performance Plus subscription.

The other part of this is Digital ATIS, a text version of the official ATIS broadcast. Like PDC, this is mostly available at larger airline airports, so don’t expect to get this at a quieter country airport, but it’s still a nice time saver. You’ll receive an email and text message with the full arrival or departure ATIS, including the letter identifier. This is also available in the app with version 10.4.3 – go to the Airports page and look at the Weather tab.

Pricing details

At $299.99/year, Performance Plus isn’t exactly cheap, but considering all the features included we actually think it’s a great value. To get all these features with other software options could easily cost over $1,000. You can compare all features on ForeFlight’s website.

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