December 16, 2011

The aviation industry has enjoyed a rapid rise in new technologies and electronic devices used for aviation planning and navigation, and users of digital navigation and planning charts have been able to access and download that information from the FAA at no cost.

The FAA, however, will soon charge for that access, because the increased digital demand has resulted in decreased revenue from government sales of paper charts. On December 13, 2011, NBAA joined over 70 stakeholders representing digital chart distributors in a meeting hosted by FAA’s Aeronautical Navigation Products (AeroNav) division. The purpose of the meeting was to collaboratively discuss proposals by which the digital product line can recover the direct production costs associated with the development of digital navigation charts.

FAA AeroNav representatives communicated the budgetary challenges FAA faces in this new age of digital products – that along with the advent of electronic device usage there has been a remarkable decline in paper sales, a significant revenue stream for AeroNav products. To sustain the AeroNav products program, FAA will soon turn to consumers of its digital products line to recoup an estimated $5 million in annual production costs. FAA’s move to recover costs is strictly for the purpose of supporting the AeroNav charting program.

The FAA shared an initial proposal with the group which would require industry distributors to establish partner-agent agreements with the FAA for the sale and distribution of their digital products. According to FAA, those agreements would provide the mechanism for maintaining quality and integrity of the navigation charts.

This initial proposal offered two product packages: A Standard Digital Product “core” suite would package the current line of all digital VFR and IFR charts, the Terminal Procedures Publication (dTPP), Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD), and Coded Instrument Flight Procedures (CIFP/NFD). The proposal would make these core products available individually as well.

The second package would be an optional Enhanced Digital Products suite which would include customized products to support enhanced partner requirements. Examples include unique modifications to CIFPs, a seamless data-layered IFR Enroute product, and unique file formats for the A/FD. The Enhanced package would have built-in protections in the form of non-disclosure agreements and a special services agreement signed by the customer-agent.

In their initial proposal, FAA outlined two different pricing options – a “flat rate” cost per digital product sold, and a “tiered” price structure that would be based on the number of customers a distributer retains. In this design, cost per unit would decrease with an increase in end-user customer base. In short, more demand would yield lower costs, and that price system would remain flexible over time. No clear consensus or figure was reached by the end of the meeting, but industry made it clear to the FAA that fair and reasonable pricing must be based on solid industry data and not gross estimates.

Over the coming months, NBAA will work closely with the FAA to develop a fair, affordable, impartial, and transparent system that will allow the FAA to recover the cost of producing the digital charts while also ensuring their safe distribution and use. The FAA plans to release their proposal in early 2012 for public comment and NBAA will share that proposal with Members.

For more information on this meeting, visit the FAA AeroNav web page or contact NBAA’s Operation Service Group at (202) 783-9250.