Paper charts still needed, but AeroNav is wrong

Does anyone dispute the need for paper charts for pilots? I hope not. Likewise, there can be no doubt about the rapid rise of digital chart usage. More and more general aviation pilots (and airlines and flight departments for that matter) are adopting “appified” navigation via [insert app here] on Apple’s iPad and a few other tablet devices. How dare anyone stand in the way of this progress. Yet that is exactly what the FAA’s AeroNav (Aeronautical Navigation Products) division is proposing.

If you are unaware, AeroNav held a meeting on December 13 “for companies interested in distributing our digital product line in the future.” The meeting had a stated goal “to collaboratively discuss options for FAA’s AeroNav Products to develop a proposal to best distribute digital products.” That goal seems right enough… yet highlights from the meeting tell a much different story. Five of the nine bullet points from AeroNav’s meeting highlights mention fees and/or revenue.

I received, from an attendee who wishes to remain nameless, slides from the meeting. Slide 2 from the “Pre-Proposed Digital Pricing Methodology” discussion delivered by Debra Sullivan, Manager, Resource Planning & Management Support says it all… to me. It states the need to fill a $5 million budget hole “based on the current decrease in paper sales”. [Read the Digital Products Pricing slides for yourself. Slides include proposed pricing for all-you-can-eat and a la carte product orders.] What I am failing to understand is why the FAA is proposing dramatic new fees on users who aren’t the cause of the short-fall. Well, to be honest, I understand it… I just don’t agree.

There are any number of privately-owned printers in the United States with capacity to produce printed charts to fulfill the shrinking need. As I asked at the top, does anyone dispute the need for paper charts for pilots? I’m sure a growing number of you vehemently will dispute the question. That’s fine. But if anyone refusing to navigate via digital chart is grounded because a paper-chart doesn’t exist… that will be sad. And this shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing discussion.

A slide titled, “Challenge With Digital Products” from Fred Anderson, Director, AeroNav Products states, “Paper sales are declining, and current digital product revenue cannot sustain charting program”. [Read Fred's Intro Summary slides for yourself]. He’s stating a problem many publishers have been battling for years… trading print dollars for digital dimes (or pennies).

AeroNav has a large printing plant that sucks up a great deal of its annual budget. You can see a nameless/faceless video titled, “Charting Your Safety: The Birth of an Aeronautical Chart” on the AeroNav website. A starting point of the discussions should be: close the plant and outsource the printing. Painful, but a logical first step.

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