AOPA says it's hoping to organize a "unified voice" from aviation chart providers for a Dec. 13 meeting in which the FAA will lay out at least some of its plans to restructure the distribution of online navigation data. As AVweb reported Nov. 13, the FAA intends to stop universal free access to online products hosted by AeroNav. Instead, as of April 5, 2012, only entities with signed distribution agreements will have access to the downloads and there will be an as-yet undisclosed fee for those downloads. In a posting on its website Tuesday, AOPA said it met with FAA officials in August and October and will bring the issue up again at an open house being held Dec. 6, a week ahead of the meeting with stakeholders. The FAA has so far barred the media from attending the Dec. 13 meeting.
The FAA has said that it must cover the costs incurred by the creation, hosting and distribution of the online products but it has also said safety is an issue in that it currently has no way of ensuring the integrity of the information after it has been downloaded. By making distributors sign an agreement to ensure the charts are not altered or information left out, it says it will enhance safety. But AOPA says it and the industry are concerned that limiting availability to the information will have the opposite effect and actually create flight safety issues. The relatively new industry that has grown up around creating chart and navigation apps for consumer electronics (like iPads) is concerned the fees will force them to price their products out of the market and leave it open to larger entities and companies to corner the online market for chart and nav products. In our interview with the FAA, they made it clear they in no way want to stifle the industry, create a monopoly or duopoly, or compromise safety. However, when we asked them what would happen if the minimum amount the FAA needs to recoup its costs in producing charts is more than the industry currently can pay, they could offer no answer or contingency plan.