Paper vs. Electronic Pilot Logbooks

Electronic vs paper logbooks

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    There’s an app for that! It’s true most of the time, even in the cockpit of your aircraft. And true to form, one of the most tedious paperwork tasks that pilots have to complete has now been fully digitized. 

    But are digital logbooks a good idea? Has the time finally come to ditch that heavy, messy, flammable paper logbook and go entirely 21st century? If you’re a new private pilot trying to decide, this article is for you.

    Here’s a look at the pros and cons to consider when making that decision, along with some of the best apps to look into. 

    What is a Pilot Logbook, and Why is it So Important?

    First, it’s important to realize that your pilot logbook is so much more important than a simple tally of your flight hours. It’s an official record where you keep data that proves you meet legal requirements. 

    The FARs (federal aviation regulations) stipulates that you must log all flights completed for training towards a certificate or rating, along with flights required to prove you are current. These are the bare minimums—most pilots record every single flight they make.

    Many pilots’ differing attitudes come from their career goals. For example, retired pilots who fly for fun may be very happy only to keep track of those few things that the FAA requires. Young pilots, however, who have many pilot job interviews ahead of them are likely going to want to count every single flight hour. 

    Filling out a paper logbook

    The FAA doesn’t lay out exactly how you should log your hours, even those hours that the rules require. While commercially available paper pilot logbooks have been the standard for decades, nothing specifically says a digital one won’t do. 

    But things get pretty complicated if you want to use a digital logbook for training flights. For one thing, you and your flight instructor will have to be on the same page about it. In addition, your flight instructor will have to agree to endorse your logbook digitally. 

    When Should You Keep a Paper Logbook?

    Those flights endorsed by a CFI aren’t going to be easy to replicate. What if your chosen digital logbook provider goes out of business in five years? Will you lose the official CFI signatures from those training flights? 

    Likewise, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that if you ever did have to prove your currency to the FAA that you’d find they were less than impressed with a digital logbook. If the FAA expects to see the traditional ink-and-paper pilot logbook, neatly filled out and accurately showing you’ve met the legal requirements—then you should have that.

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    With that in mind, the conventional wisdom is that all pilots should keep an official paper logbook that shows they’ve met their legal requirements. Any other logging of flights is entirely up to you. 

    What Good are Digital Logbooks?

    There are undeniable advantages to having a digital logbook.

    One of the most tedious jobs pilots do is sitting down and tallying their hours. A digital logbook does all of this automatically. All of the math functions are built-in. Many of them can even auto-populate the FAA 8710 and IACRA application forms. 

    It’s also easy to keep a digital logbook tidy. By removing handwriting and making corrections easier, digital products look organized and great.

    Finally, there is the question of backup copies. Logbook apps will store your flight records on their cloud web server, which means there is always a copy out there. A paper logbook is exceptionally delicate—it could be easily lost, stolen, or destroyed. 

    Even if you’re concerned about your logbook provider going out of business, these apps allow you to save your data in a standardized spreadsheet format like CSV (comma separated values file). These can then be imported to other programs, so you should be able to change apps without too much hassle. Or, if you want a paper backup, all you need to do is hit print.

    The Problem With All Logbooks

    The biggest problem with all logbooks is that you want to keep them looking nice and incredibly accurate, but it’s a bigger job than you often think.

    For example, working pilots making multiple flights every day often don’t record every detail until the end of the day. This is a significant change from your student pilot days, where every flight ended with a ceremonial signing of the logbook.

    Paper pilot logbook

    Airline pilots have had a trick up their sleeves for a long time. They’ll buy the inexpensive, small logbooks and keep them as day logs.

    They jot notes in them as they progress through the day. Then, they’ll sit down and transcribe these notes into their larger official logbook at the end of the week or month.

    This plan has the advantage of protecting the official logbook by leaving it at home or some other safe place.

    If it’s not with you on the flight or in your bag, it’s less likely to get lost. Plus, when you sit down to update it, you’re more likely to use a nice pen and keep it tidy.

    Digital logbooks make an excellent replacement for this day long. If you have the app on your phone or tablet, you can easily add each flight to it. Some of them even save the data directly from or within your electronic flight bag (EFB) app. 

    5 Great Digital Logbook Apps

    There are dozens of logbook apps available for each platform. So no matter whether you carry Apple or Android devices or want a web-based app that does the job, you’ll be able to find something to your liking. 

    Before spending days laboriously inputting years of flight time into any program, spend some time evaluating each app. At a minimum, make sure it can do the following.

    • Back up your data safely and securely
    • Exports the data to a standard CSV or another file for migrating to other apps in the future
    • Works on both your portable devices and any desktop with a web login
    • Tallies your total times for your records, which is especially helpful when filling out IACRA applications
    • Compatible with dispatching programs at your company

    Foreflight Logbook

    ForeFlight Digital Pilot Logbook

    Foreflight is one of the most popular EFB apps, and its set of features gets better each year. Foreflight Logbook is built right into the app, making it the natural choice if you already use Foreflight and have a subscription.

    Like all of Foreflight’s products, the Logbook function is incredibly well thought out. There is a syncing and signing feature for training, and there are auto calculation tools for currency. It syncs up with the flight plans you’ve used in the app, so many flights are already there in draft mode and just need approval. 

    Far and away, the logbook function in Foreflight is one of the most feature-rich offerings you’ll find. Foreflight is only available on iOS products or from the web.

    Garmin Pilot

    Garmin Digital Pilot Logbook

    Garmin Pilot is a full-featured EFB app that includes planning, charts, and a logbook tool. In many ways, it’s a direct competitor with the Foreflight Mobile app. Like Foreflight, it requires a subscription to use.

    Your flyGarmin account supports a web-based pilot logbook. Besides the obvious hour tallies, you can upload supporting documents, even photographs. The Garmin Pilot app is available for both iOS and Android devices.

    ZuluLog Pilot Logbook

    Zululog Digital Pilot Logbook

    ZuluLog has been around for more than a decade. If you don’t want to commit to a Foreflight or Garmin subscription, this is one of the best websites for individual pilots.

    A free account lets you try out the product and features, while the paid account for $90 per year allows you to import old records, create custom reports for interviews, and tally times in more than 15 types of aircraft. You can access your records using either their website or their apps. 

    FlyGo Pilot Logbook International

    FlyGo Digital Pilot Logbook

    Unlike other apps, Pilot Logbook International has a free trial and then allows you to pay for the app once instead of an annual subscription fee. It is a basic flight time logging, and tracking app that doesn’t include any planning or chart features that some others do.

    In short, it’s a less expensive and more straightforward option. Flynn also makes a full suite of EFB apps, but each is sold individually instead of packaged together. Their apps are only compatible with iOS devices.

    Spreadsheet Programs

    If you want a completely free option that will give you complete control over your logbook, consider setting up your own spreadsheet. This option may require a little bit of work on your part, but once you have it set up, you should easily migrate to any other app.

    You can also set up custom formulas to track any time requirement you need to track. And, of course, you can use any app you like on any platform you like.

    All major spreadsheet programs—Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, and Apple Numbers—all have offline and cloud-based editing options.

    Conclusion

    Every pilot will occasionally want to update their paper logbook, but keeping a digital log is a great way to track daily flights.

    The best solution for many fliers is to work with a combination—let your EFB app or spreadsheet track the day-to-day stuff, and then keep an official logbook somewhere safe.

    Article continues below.

    become an airline pilot with Zero Time to Airline training

    Keeping them both updated will actually be easier since the electronic one does all the math for you, and all you need to do is transcribe it into the official record every once in a while.

    By Liz Brassaw

    Liz Brassaw is the Chief Pilot and Chief Flight Operations Officer for Thrust Flight. She is a CFI, CFII and MEI with over 2,500 hours of flight instruction given. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the Utah Valley University School of Aviation Sciences. She’s passionate about flying and enjoys instilling that love in the instructors on her team and the new students she trains.

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