May 11, 2012

The Senate is stepping in to ensure stakeholders are able to provide input to a plan by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to impose user fees for electronic chart data. The new charges, originally expected to take effect April 5, are now likely on hold until the FAA seeks formal public comments and justifies its pricing to lawmakers.

On December 13, 2011, the FAA’s AeroNav Products Directorate held an informational session with NBAA and other aviation organizations, including private sector e-chart providers and avionics manufacturers, to announce new fees totaling about $150 per year for end users of e-chart data previously available free. AeroNav also told chart resellers they would face fees and new terms for distribution of products created using the data.

The FAA’s advance notice of changes to charts was also reduced from the traditional 17 days to 24 hours, effective immediately, putting commercial e-chart companies at a competitive disadvantage to the FAA in serving customers with updated charts.

The FAA claimed authorization to recover costs for producing e-charts under an April 2000 law that preceded the transfer of charting services to the FAA from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The terms for data resellers were controversial due to an apparent conflict with Title 17 of the Copyright Act, which expressly excludes from copyright protection works created by the federal government.

However, in its April 19 report on a bill to provide FY 2013 funding for the FAA, the Senate Appropriations Committee notes the FAA has not justified its new fee, nor sought sufficient input from stakeholders, adding, “these changes may conflict with the FAA’s mission to provide timely and accurate information for pilots in the interest of safe and efficient navigation.

“The committee therefore has included an administrative provision in the bill that would restrict the FAA from implementing new fees on AeroNav products until the agency has undergone a process of public outreach and provided a full justification to the committee.”

Regarding the abrupt shortening of notice of changes to charts, the report continues, “Until a new proposal is approved and implemented, FAA should seek to restore the 17-day availability of digital content on the Internet.”

Steve Brown, NBAA’s senior vice president, operations & administration, said of the committee’s recommendations, “NBAA welcomes the congressional review of FAA’s charting proposal and will participate in the additional industry outreach requested.”

The recommendations in the committee’s report will not become binding unless they are included in bills passed by both the Senate and the House.