Garmin has lots of cool stuff that help pilots. One of those is their Flight Stream. A Flight Stream is a bluetooth connection between the airplane’s GPS unit (it works with any Garmin GPS, from a 430 all the way up through a Garmin G5000) and any portable device, either Apple (Foreflight or Garmin Pilot) or Android (Foreflight). This unlocks many tools to pilots to make flying easier and safer.
There are two types of Flight Streams, a 210 and a 510. The Flight Stream 210 is a piece of hardware that get’s installed behind the panel that connects to the GPS unit. A 510 is an SD card that replaces the SD card that is installed in the GPS unit. A 510 also allows the databases to be updated via WIFI through the Garmin Pilot App. A Garmin 430/530 can only use a Flight Stream 210 since it doesn’t have any SD card slots.
The first, and most obvious, advantage of a Garmin Flight Stream is the ease of loading a flight plan into the Garmin GPS. Once a pilot has filed a flight plan, if the route is complicated, it can take a while to input the whole flight plan into the GPS (especially if there are airways involved on a Garmin 430/530 unit). With the simple tap of a button on Foreflight or Garmin Pilot, the flight plan is sent to the GPS, then loaded into the active flight plan after the pilot confirms it. This makes flight plan loading much simpler and quicker. If a Radial/DME fix is part of the clearance, the GPS automatically makes a user waypoint in the flight plan when it is uploaded to the GPS.
The second advantage of a Garmin Flight Stream is streamlining a missed approach. Once the pilot has gone missed and elected to proceed to the alternate airport, the flight plan can be sent from Foreflight or Garmin Pilot to the GPS for going to the alternate airport. Especially in turbulence, this saves a lot of time and bypasses the need to delete the old flight plan and create a new one.
The third advantage of a Garmin Flight Stream is one that pilots don’t often think about. What happens when an electrical problem arises, the gear doesn’t go up, the flaps get stuck or the engine starts running rough right after takeoff (assuming one engine), one engine has failed (assuming two engines) and the airplane has already entered the clouds? This would be a good time to turn around and come back. But, what if the departure airport is below minimums? In a situation like this, it would be an excellent idea for the pilot to have a flight plan loaded on Foreflight or Garmin Pilot to a departure alternate, just in case.
A departure alternate is a requirement for Part 121 operations, but for Part 91 operations, it’s not a requirement. Under Part 121.617, a departure alternate is an airport not more than an hour away from the departure airport that can be reached at normal cruise speed with one engine failed. Even for single engine airplanes, it’s good to have a backup plan in case something goes wrong immediately after takeoff. A Flight Stream allows a pilot to have a secondary flight plan loaded up on ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot to a departure alternate that can be quickly sent to the GPS if needed.
Garmin Flight Streams are quite handy to have and aren’t that expensive to install. If an airplane has a Garmin 430/530 unit, I believe a Flight Stream is a must. If you have purchased a newer airplane, almost all newer airplanes come with a Flight Stream standard.