FAA To Create Aeronautical Chart Cartel?

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If your FBO doesn't sell $5,000 worth of charts annually, it might not be selling any charts to anyone after Oct. 5, 2009 -- that's when the FAA and National Aeronautical Navigation Services (formerly NACO) new Chart Agent criteria take effect. Proponents claim the new criteria will help reduce costs and increase efficiency; opponents fear it may for all practical purposes make spontaneous chart purchases at small airports (and spontaneous trips) a thing of the past. At present some smaller FBOs rely on discounted pricing from the FAA and returns for credit for expired charts to make selling charts financially feasible. Under the new program, businesses that don't sell $5,000 worth of charts annually would either be cut out of the distribution network -- and no longer sell charts -- or be forced to rely on the graces of a select group of high-volume private chart distributors that meet the target sales volume. According to the FAA, only 293 of 1790 independent chart distributors currently meet the mark. And, for some, that raises serious questions.

Under the new system, the FAA would allow selected high-volume Chart Agents to purchase the charts and distribute them through "their own network of sales outlet(s)." Theoretically, smaller outlets that won't qualify as Chart Agents but are still interested in offering charts to pilots would work out arrangements with the larger qualifying Chart Agents. According to one AVweb reader and FBO operator, those arrangements "are nowhere near as favorable" as those the FAA has (until Oct. 5) offered, prompting the fear some outlets will simply choose to remove charts from their offerings. For more details, find "HPO White Paper," the "Agent Listing Spreadsheet" and "Chart Agent Letter" here.