Summary Of December 13th Meeting Released
A summary of the closed-to-the-media meeting between the FAA's
digital chart provider AeroNav and representatives from dozens of
companies who have built businesses based on the free use of those
charts has been acquired by ANN. The tone of the meeting, at least
from reading the summary, seems to be that charges for electronic
chart data are coming, and companies can either be on board or find
another line of business.
During the meeting, the industry representatives heard
presentations from several representatives of AeroNav and the FAA,
and then broke into groups to discuss various aspects of the
proposal to begin charging a fee for the use of the data.
Fred Anderson, director of the FAA's AeroNav Product division,
said that the FAA has had legislative authority to charge for
aeronautical products since the charting program was instituted in
1926. He stated the need for the division to recover $5 million it
has accrued for the compilation and database management for the
digital products, and pointed out that back in the days of paper
charts, the price nearly doubled in a two year period between 1986
and 1988. "Based on a dollar amount, this increase was
significantly greater than what we are discussing for digital
products. Reports to congress showed there was no impact to
aviation safety from the price increases," the summary says.
Other representatives outlined the products offered, including
"Special Services" products, and the proposed pricing
To that last point, AeroNav planning manager Deborah Sullivan
told the group that the division "must comply with legislation and
the High Performing Organization Plan to attain fully allowable
cost recovery of compilation, database management and distribution
of digital aeronautical products. This ensures the sustainment of
the program and that up-to-date relevant products are readily
available to the public." She said that the pre-proposed pricing
was based upon the assumption that 100,000 to 120,000 customers
purchasing subscriptions to single digital product units (i.e.,
Airport/Facility Directory, IFR Enroute, US Terminal Procedures
Publications and VFR Aeronautical Sectionals). She said that
comparing the $150 per year cost for the digital data compares with
a cost of $3,700 per year for the same information printed on paper
AeroNav Products Business Development Director Abigail Smith
said that Digital Agents have up to one year to establish the net
purchase requirement of $10K in digital aeronautical products to
maintain their agent status and understand it is not an exclusive
franchise agreement. She said the intent is to create a minimum
purchase structure low enough to encourage innovation and
competition to allow for as many digital agents as possible.
Discussion concerned the need for cost recovery for each
individual using FAA’s AeroNav Digital Products, whether
directly or indirectly from an agent. AeroNav understands that
several digital distributors have sub-distributors and this article
emphasized the end point of the distribution chain. Feedback during
the meeting and following indicated that more consideration needs
to be given to allowing subagents.
Among the suggestions to come from the discussion groups were to
have the FAA create a subscription fee with discreet key codes,
with companies honoring the authentication code. Key sharing is
fairly straight forward to audit and control and helps address the
complications of things like product returns. It was suggested that
existing chart agents sell the digital keys. More than one group
said that it favored a flat fee and not a tiered pricing model.
Participants felt that the tiered model would not bring in the
needed revenue, and that it was unfair to smaller companies.
A second group told AeroNav that the $150 price point was too
high, and said it needed assurances from the FAA that its website
will not be a way that users or unauthorized distributor cannot
by-pass the new processes in the FAA website. The group recommended
that charts on the FAA website have a watermark “NOT for
NAVIGATION”. It was also suggested that a "user" needed to be
more clearly defined, and that the timeline for implementation is
too short. AeroNav said it is open to looking at schedule
Other suggestions were that the FAA impose a per-view charge on
its website, that pilots who fly primarily in a specific area or
region be allowed to purchase only the charts they will use.
Questions were also raised about copyright and encryption
The $5 million figure is only for the first year of the program.
AeroNav said in response to a question that the enabling
legislation allows for price adjustments. It says it knows that the
paper product sales will decline over time and digital sales will
increase. As the customers shift from one format to another,
adjustments would be made accordingly, and a larger portion of the
fee structure may be needed in the future to realize fully
allowable cost recovery in accordance with the High Performing
Organization plan approved by the Office of Management and
The more users there are for aeronautical products the more the
costs are shared.
AeroNav said it has no plans to develop applications that will
compete with the commercial companies -- for now.