AOPA, NBAA on FAA Chart Charges: Wait and See

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Both of general aviation's principal advocacy groups say they're taking a wait-and-see attitude toward last week's proposal by the FAA to radically raise the cost of digital charting data to the industry. AOPA and NBAA had representatives at the meeting last Tuesday, in which the FAA's AeroNav division said it wanted to charge about $150 a year for each end user of its digital charting data. Participants in the meeting told us this could more than double the cost of some chart apps and drive some free viewers from the market entirely, including perhaps the two DUATs vendors, which offer plate viewers.

"We didn't go in with preconceived notions. We went in to have a dialog with the FAA. It was a rich and robust discussion," said AOPA's Heidi Williams, who handles air traffic and airspace issues for the association. She told AVweb that AOPA will wait until the FAA reveals its fully formed proposal next month before announcing its policy on the higher charges. When we asked if AOPA would investigate AeroNav's economics to have a stronger bargaining position, Williams said "I'm not saying we will or we won't. We want to see the FAA's proposal first."

NBAA's Steve Brown says his association is asking a lot of questions of the FAA and, like AOPA, is formulating a strategy. "It [the meeting} was really an opening dialog. For now, it's OK to see if they heard us and see what they come back with," Brown said.

At least some of the participants thought the FAA's meeting was a pro forma announcement of what it's going to do, not a information gathering session. But Brown didn't see it that way. "I've been to many pro forma government meetings. Those last less than an hour, not a whole day. So I don't think this was pro forma," Brown told us. He expects the FAA to come back with a proposal that incorporates some of the ideas the agency heard in the meeting. The meeting was closed to the press and public and the FAA took extraordinary efforts to keep what was discussed from reaching the pilot population at large. It released a perfunctory press release after the meeting, with very little detail. AVweb has asked the FAA for answers to detailed aspects of AeroNav's operation, and it promises to provide additional information.

NBAA's Brown says the agency knows it's under the spotlight and that government in general is expected to reduce its costs. "They have multiple pressures. They were open about that. They know they're going to have to control costs. At the end of the day for safety and other reasons, the FAA is always going to be the biggest player in this market in providing this information," Brown said.

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