AVwebBiz - Volume 9, Number 48

December 14, 2011

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Charts and Dollars back to top 
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FAA AeroNav Meeting: Radically Higher Prices for Digital Charting Proposed

The FAA's AeroNav charting division told vendors on Tuesday that it proposes to charge end users of digital charting producers about $150 a year to close a $5 million shortfall in its budget due to declining paper chart sales. The new fee, if adopted, would presumably more than double the cost of some popular iPad and Droid applications such as ForeFlight and WingX. Plus, vendors selling through Apple's application channels would face additional charges. "To me, it's pretty clear that these prices are a non-starter. I know pilots aren't going to pay $150 for these products without screaming about it," one vendor told us.

And because AeroNav's incremental pricing favors large-volume vendors over smaller ones, the pricing change may effectively kill smaller application writers and/or free sites that offer FAA charting products as a convenience for users. That might include DUATs contractors, which offer free charts on the two sites.

Moreover, the FAA told about 70 vendors that as paper sales continue to decline, the FAA charges for digital charting products are likely to increase in order to cover fixed overhead costs. The agency also assured the vendors that it would not be developing any apps or other products to compete with them.

Tuesday's meeting, which was closed to the public and press, had been billed as an information gathering session so the AeroNav group could reach pricing that worked for everyone. Based on conversations with several vendors, we would say reaction to the FAA's proposals were mixed at best.

"The FAA did a remarkably good job in soliciting opinion," one vendor told us, "I'm actually fairly hopeful." Mark Spenser of Avilution, a newer aviation app for Android, says he's not sure he'll stay in the business if that's really the rate. "It's too early to tell." The FAA also realizes there will have to be some other structure for websites that display charts, like FltPlan.com or RunwayFinder. Dave Parsons of RunwayFinder told us, "I won't be able to do it for even a dollar a user [per year]."

Several vendors we spoke to told us there wasn't much give and take and that AeroNav presented their price structure in a way that suggested little flexibility. This is especially distressing as the FAA seems to have grossly underestimated the number of potential users, vendors told us. They told the assembled vendors that the $150/year number was based on their estimated number of users divided into the $5 million shortfall. But that's only about 33,000 users. Vendors tell us the real number is more than 100,000. That may be good news for driving down the final price for subscriptions. It's also true that bigger companies will have the right to resell charts to start-ups, who might want only single-updates or charts for a specific area of the country to trim costs. However there might be an inherent conflict of interest in doing so.

Bigger companies also will have an edge as the proposed pricing is regressive: For example, a vendor with up to 100 customers would pay $250 per customer, while one with up to 1,500 might pay $120. There was also a flat-fee proposal where zero to 100 customers would be $25,000/year, 100 to 250 would be $50,000/year and so on. It's unclear which of those options might go into effect, but AeroNav told the vendors the prices proposed are in a general range.

When asked if AeroNav could make up the $5 million by reducing its expenses, FAA officials said no, although budget relief from Congress might be an option. FAA officials deflected several specific questions about AeroNav's budgeting and costs.

In addressing the group, Fred Anderson, AeroNav's director of products, told the vendors that the FAA has always charged user fees for charting products, dating to the 1920s, when the government was authorized by Congress to collect fees limited to paper and printing. The current law allows AeroNav to charge for printing and distribution, but also for management of databases used for chart preparation. It cannot charge for the acquisition or distribution of flight data required to make charts. Heretofore, AeroNav has charged a nominal fee for digital chart data it sold on DVDs. It has also allowed all comers to download the digital data at no charge, an arrangement that made attractive economics for some application writers. Vendor costs for the DVD have been on the order of $200 a year, but with no end user limitations, they amortize this over hundreds or thousands of customers.

AeroNav also proposed that vendors will be required to become chart sales agents and will be subject to audit by AeroNav to confirm they're charging customers correctly, which will cost vendors -- and customers -- yet more money. Vendors told us the FAA hopes to finalize its pricing, contractual agreement and other issues brought up in today's meeting by early January. We'll gauge pilot reaction after the numbers are finalized. Meanwhile, the FAA did not returns calls asking for comments on Tuesday.

Related Content:

AVweb Insider Blog: Ahead This Week -- AeroNav Gets to 'Splain Itself

For reasons we find mystifying, the FAA steadfastly refuses to answer questions about budget and revenue plans for its AeroNav charting division. It's supposed to sort this out with vendors in a closed meeting this week, which the public and press are barred from attending. On the AVweb Insider blog, Paul Bertorelli runs downs the issues and options.

Read more and join the conversation.

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The Next Big Thing back to top 

Rutan, Allen Team Up For "Stratolaunch"

Aircraft designer Burt Rutan has teamed up again with investor Paul Allen -- who bankrolled Rutan's winning entry in the 2004 X Prize -- to build what they say will be the world's largest airplane, "Stratolaunch," capable of launching payloads into space. The composite aircraft, weighing 1.2 million pounds, with a 385-foot wingspan, resembles an upsized WhiteKnight, with twin fuselages joined by a long wing and a carrier mechanism in the middle. Plans call for six jet engines like those used on 747s, and booster rocket engines from Elon Musk's SpaceX. Test flights are planned for 2015.

Allen has formed a new company, Stratolaunch Systems, to build the airplane. He said on Tuesday he is prepared to spend millions of dollars in pursuit of his goal. "There's a certain number of dreams in your life that you want to fulfill, and this is a dream that I'm very comfortable will come to fruition," he said. Scaled already has built a new hangar at Mojave to build the airplane, and acquired a pair of 747s that will be cannibalized for parts and engines. "I have long dreamed about taking the next big step in private space flight after the success of SpaceShipOne -- to offer a flexible, orbital space delivery system," Allen said, in a statement. "We are at the dawn of radical change in the space launch industry."

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Battle of the Bandwidths: Back to the Table back to top 

LightSquared Offers FCC A Deal

LightSquared has offered to give up control of part of the frequency spectrum it owns in exchange for unconditional use of another part of the L-band frequency for its controversial proposed broadband network. In a proposal to the FCC (PDF), LightSquared says it will cede veto power over the use of half of its spectrum to government agencies that form the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee if the FCC will remove conditions on its use of the other half for its nationwide 4G wholesale broadband network. The principal condition of its license with the FCC is that it prove the broadband signals don't disrupt GPS communications. LightSquared says there are only minor and easily overcome interference issues in the lower half of the 20-Mhz swath of spectrum it owns but the GPS industry says interference is a problem across the whole sliver of spectrum. LightSquared says it will also limit the power of its signals in the lower band to further mitigate interference if the FCC goes for its deal. Meanwhile the start-up broadband provider reacted aggressively to leaked reports earlier this week that suggested GPS interference remains a major concern.

In a conference call with reporters, LightSquared claimed it was the victim of a systematic campaign of leaks of partial results from interference tests. "This most recent leak continues the pattern of premature release of data to reporters for the sole purpose of damaging LightSquared, influencing public opinion and inflaming political opposition," the company said in a news release. "And it is a part of the multi-million public relations/lobbying campaign being coordinated by GPS manufacturers, who have a financial interest in the outcome of this debate." LightSquared said the resulting media reports "falsely assume that LightSquared will operate at 32 times its authorized power levels." LightSquared further said that at the frequencies and power levels proposed, the performance of none of the GPS devices tested was affected, although it did say about 4 percent of the devices did register interference. LightSquared also says the tests, which concluded Nov. 30, have not been properly analyzed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

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The Shape of 2012 back to top 

Forecast: BizJet Sales To Recover Next Year

A recent report from Forecast International predicts that 2012 will see a turnaround in the business-jet market, with modest growth expected, ending a three-year trend of declining sales. The recovery will be slow, according to analyst Raymond Jaworowski. The improvement in 2012 will be "minor," he said, and "more substantial growth in build rates will have to wait until 2013." The production total in 2008 of 1,313 business jets may not be seen again until 2018.

"The worst of the industry downturn is over," said the company's news release, "but much of the business jet market remains sluggish, especially the light and medium jet segments of the market." Demand is considerably stronger at the top end of the market, in the large-cabin and long-range sectors. Forecast International's market forecast showed that through 2020, the top producers of business jets will be Cessna, Embraer, and Bombardier. When measured in monetary value of production, the top three companies are projected to be Gulfstream, Bombardier, and Dassault. In October, Forecast International also predicted slow growth for piston and turboprop sales through next year, with stronger growth starting in 2013.

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News Briefs back to top 

Hawker Beech Seeks Break From Lenders

Hawker Beechcraft is looking for a break from the holders of a $182 million revolving line of credit as it grapples with the rough economy. According to Bloomberg, the Wichita planemaker, jointly owned by Goldman Sachs and Onex Corp., is close to violating the terms of the loan agreement in which its cash flow must grow. Hawker Beech has been hard hit by the collapse of the light jet market. Although the lenders could theoretically call the loan if the cash flow issue isn't resolved, financial experts quoted by Bloomberg say that doesn't make any sense.

Sam Goodyear, an analyst at CreditSights, suggested the lenders will cut Hawker Beech some slack, given the circumstances. "There's a logical path to giving these guys a little more time," Goodyear told Bloomberg. "If it was forced to liquidate right now, given all the macro uncertainty related to Europe, they're probably not going to maximize their recoveries."

FAA Proposes Stall-Recovery Change

Pilots of transport-category airplanes should be taught to reduce the angle of attack as their first response to a stall warning, the FAA said on Tuesday. In a new proposed advisory circular, the FAA says it aims to provide "best practices and guidance for training, testing, and checking for pilots to ensure correct and consistent response to unexpected stall warnings, and/or stick pusher activations." The AC is an apparent response to the Colgan Air and Air France crashes, in which the pilots' reaction to stall warnings was part of the accident chain. Jet pilots have often been trained to use power as the initial means of recovery, to minimize altitude loss.

The AC also notes that training in stall recovery is most effective when using simulators that are as realistic as possible. If the simulator experience doesn't duplicate reality, instructors should explain the differences, the AC says. For example, certain simulators may not be able to accurately duplicate the motion cues associated with accelerated stalls. The AC also suggests that while it's a good idea to introduce some distractions while practicing the stall encounter, instructors are discouraged from introducing "multiple compounding malfunctions," to avoid confusion. The FAA is accepting comments on the proposed AC until Jan. 12, via Docket No. FAA-2011-1359 at Regulations.gov.

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AVweb Media: Look, Listen, Laugh and Learn back to top 

Video: F-106 Corn Field Bomber, Convair Delta Dart

Original, Exclusive Videos from AVweb | Reader-Submitted & Viral Videos

This is an unusual story. The jet you're looking at is an F-106 Delta Dart. A storied interceptor in its day, it was built to exceed an Air Force requirement for 1.9 mach and continuous flight at 57,000 feet. It did both. And in December 1959, it set a speed record, of 1,525 mph, or about 2.3 mach, while flying at 40,000 feet. Its pilot at the time, Major Joseph Rogers, claimed the record might not be accurate. He was still accelerating, he said, at the time.

But this particular jet is famous for a different reason.

As the story goes, the aircraft you see here on February 2, 1970 flew itself into the ground -- a snowy field in Montana, where its engine continued to run for another hour and 45 minutes. Grounded, pilotless and still under power, with its radar still sweeping, the jet sometimes crept forward foot by foot through the snow as a small collection of onlookers watched. Its pilot, 1st Lieutenant Gary Foust, had ejected roughly two hours before that show was over. Foust's trip was just as interesting. He'd lost control of the jet while flying a mock engagement that led his and two other jets into harsh maneuvers in the thin, unforgiving air at 38,000 feet. Attempting to match a high-g reversal by another pilot, Foust's jet bucked. He entered a flat spin, and the jet fell, spinning slowly like a model on a turntable. The flight's two other pilots came to his aid, calling out recovery procedures. But by 15,000 feet the result seemed certain, and an instructor in one of the other jets ordered Foust to eject. Foust obeyed.

But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and it could be it's that law that saved the jet. As Foust shot up, the jet's condition changed -- just enough for it to recover on its own and head off for the horizon. Legend has it that one of the observing pilots said on frequency, "Gary, you better get back in."

In the end, the jet was recovered, rebuilt and put back to work as tail number 80787. But it was forever known as the Corn Field bomber. Delta Darts were phased out in the 1980s.

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Who's Where back to top 

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The Top Reporter on Our Crack Staff ... Is You! back to top 

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 255,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

Names Behind the News back to top 

Meet the AVwebBiz Team

AVwebBiz is a weekly summary of the latest business aviation news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.

The AVwebBiz team is:

Timothy Cole

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Russ Niles

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Features Editor
Kevin Lane-Cummings

Scott Simmons

Jeff van West

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