The powerful Senate Appropriations Committee has rapped the knuckles of the FAA over its handling of proposed changes to the delivery of online navigation information services and suggested more congressional oversight on the implementation of those changes. The committee, whose report must be approved by the full Senate and House, says AeroNav, the arm of the agency that publishes navigation and airport information, should immediately restore the 17-day advance availability of the next iteration of online publications, which it abruptly reduced to 24 hours last year. The change made it difficult if not impossible for third-party online navigation information providers to fully update their data bases before the effective dates of the new charts. "The committee is concerned that 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 said. It also warned against using online products as a cash cow to make up for lost revenue from diminishing paper chart sales.
"Sales of paper products have fallen but the FAA should not view the sale of digital products simply as a convenient source of revenue to compensate for the loss of revenue," the report said. At a meeting with aviation groups and chart resellers last December, AeroNav officials said it was going to start charging about $150 a year to end users for the publications and require resellers to be registered to get access to the data. The changes were to have been implemented by April 5 but nothing has changed, and it won't without the government's approval if the committee report is adopted as written. The committee is not opposed to the FAA's charging for the services but wants the agency to make a business case for the fees and provide an opportunity for public comment, two things that have been notably absent in the process so far. "The committee therefore has included an administrative provision that would restrict the FAA from implementing new fees on AeroNav products until the agency has undergone a process of public outreach and provided full justification to the committee." It also warns the agency to be mindful of the interests of its customers in setting the fees, ensuring they are "fair and equitable."