As of Nov. 22, more than 2,400 people have signed an online petition created at “We the People” to gather support against a new FAA policy to begin charging for downloads for charts and navigational products. To get a White House review, the petition must garner 25,000 signatures by Dec. 14.
The Aeronautical Navigational Products Directorate (Aeronav), which currently makes the latest charts and other navigational products available online for free, says it has to recover the costs associated with developing and hosting the products, so it will begin charging for them April 5, 2012.
If the petition receives 25,000 signatures by Dec. 14, White House staff will review it, ensure that it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.
Launching the petition was Radek Wyrzykowski, president of IMC Club International. The club “strongly opposes the FAA’s announcement that it will begin charging for NOS chart downloads that were previously free,” club members said in a statement. “This means charging fees to companies for downloads and no longer allowing individuals to access them at all. As of April 5, only those with distribution contracts with Aeronav will be able to download the data. This action will put a severe financial burden on flight instructors, pilots and students. It will affect small aviation safety material distribution companies like ForeFlight. Only large aviation corporations will be able to offset these expenses. This policy will have serious and wide ranging implications for the general aviation economy as it will restrict access to basic safety and proficiency materials.
“Besides its immediate impact on aviation safety, this FAA action will set a sad and dangerous precedent for the future of aviation in the United States,” the club’s statement continues. “It will open the door to imposing future additional charges such as weather briefings, calls to ATC while enroute, and formerly free usage of the ATC system. During these tough financial times, where student pilot enrollments are already drastically reduced, one has to ask the simple question: How many flight instructors, students and pilots will have extra funds to cover additional expenses? Pilot safety is at risk. Forcing the general aviation community, the very backbone of aviation safety, to incur additional expenses will surely lead to less proficiency, poorly educated pilots and will drastically compromise the safety of aviation.”
The backlash in the GA community to the FAA’s announcement is widespread. Officials with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) have organized several meetings to discuss the possible implications on safety and the cost of flying. The association and other aviation representatives will meet with the FAA on Dec. 13 to discuss the new policy.
“We are anxious to see the FAA’s proposal and will work to mitigate any impact on our members,” said Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airspace and modernization.
AOPA officials notes that Congress has given the FAA authority to charge for its products to recoup investment costs associated with producing and distributing the materials. In fact, the FAA has charged for its paper products for quite some time. While digital products were initially given away free, the “explosive” growth led the FAA to apply its model for charging for paper products to its digital ones, according to AOPA officials, who note that the FAA is not allowed to make a profit on the sale of its products.
To sign the petition, click here.