Here at EAA I keep getting questions about the legality of using one of the many electronic chart apps on portable electronic devices instead of paper charts. Do the FARs require current paper charts?
This will sound like heresy to many—probably most—pilots, but the FARs are totally silent on any requirement for charts of any kind if you fly for personal reasons in an airplane that is not a turbojet, or not certified for takeoff above 12,500 pounds.
I know. This sounds crazy. There must be a rule in there somewhere that requires charts. We were all told that by instructors. We were even scared into thinking that carrying an out of date chart broke some kind of FAR. But charts are just not mentioned in the rules that govern the way most of us fly.
FAR 91.503 does list aeronautical charts as an equipment and operating information requirement. But the “500” group of rules in Part 91 apply only to large and turbojet powered airplanes, or those that fly under fractional ownership rules. So before you light off your jet, make sure you have current charts, paper or electronic.
For the rest of us FAR 91.103 is the rule that comes closest to requiring charts of some sort—but the rule itself does not include the word chart. FAR 91.013 is the preflight requirement rule for all personal or business flying, in both large and small, and piston and jet, airplanes. This rule is like many, a catch all that includes few specific requirements, but is so general that if you screw up in some way you certainly have violated 91.103.
The preamble of FAR 91.103 states that “Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with ALL available information concerning that flight.” The emphasis on ALL is mine. But you can see how any error we make during a flight can break this rule because ALL means, well, everything. And if you make a mistake, you clearly didn’t know ALL about the flight.
If the flight is under IFR then FAR 91.103 does require a pilot to have up to date weather information, fuel requirements, alternates and knowledge of any known ATC delays. If the flight is VFR the only specific requirement is to know runway lengths available at the airports you intend to use and information on whether your airplane has the capability to use those runways.
Airport and runway information is available from many sources, both paper and electronic, so no need for charts there. And nothing in the “preflight” rule requires a PIC to consider his route of flight, possible obstructions along the route, or more importantly these days, the location of regulated airspace near the planned route.
But that kind of flight planning information comes under the requirement in 91.103 to know ALL. If you didn’t know there was a TFR and you flew into it, you clearly didn’t know ALL information. But the location and effective times of a TFR won’t be on a paper chart. But it would be on many electronic chart apps. So in today’s dynamic world of air space restrictions, the electronic chart apps are far superior to paper.
Despite the lack of an FAR requiring charts, I think it’s crazy not to have some sort of chart in your cockpit. But I don’t believe paper charts have any advantage over electronic, and have the clear disadvantage of not being as current as the electronic chart can be.
I know, I know, the electronic chart equipment can fail, while paper just lays there with its reliable inked on image. But did you look out front? For most GA pilots there is only one motor. Is the engine more reliable than an iPad or a GPS navigator with its moving maps, or a satellite broadcast of current TFR locations? Maybe. But let’s keep things in perspective. In transport airplanes where charts are required there are multiple layers of backup for everything so the odds of not making it to an airport are believed to be somewhere around one in a billion, give or take a few hundred million.
In a typical GA airplane there are all sorts of single string systems—including propulsion—that can fail and leave us somewhere other than an airport. As long as your “chart” information is as reliable as the rest of your airplane, you have done the best you can.
Remember, waving around the most recent paper sectional chart at the guys in the F-16s won’t do much for you. But having electronic charts that show the boundaries of the TFR, or a satellite link that does the same, can keep you from meeting those fighter pilots and the FAA won’t care if your charts were electronic, paper, or anything else that did the job.