Thursday, February 23, 2012

FAA Wants to Recover Digital Chart Operations Costs

The FAA indicated it would begin charging for its digital chart products, essential for US aircraft safety management. Stakeholders, vendors and other aircraft management personnel are concerned with this. They met to listen to ideas and suggestions on how best to implement these charges so as not to be onerous for everyone involved. Many contract pilots, managed aircraft companies and freelance pilots were represented by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

The FAA has to recover costs associated with paper charts and now it is seeking to recoup $5 million of operating costs related to digital charts. (Note: The FAA is required by law to recoup some of the costs of creating and distributing aeronautical products and services but there is no mandate for full investment recovery).

The $5 million calculation came from the consolidation of the National Flight Procedures Office and the National Aeronautical Charting Office. This was intended to create a high-performance organization that would "eliminate redundant processes and improve the quality of aeronautical navigation data." The Office of Management and Budget requirements for high-performance organizations are that the office must collect $27 million per year of its operating costs. The organization currently collects $22 million. $5 million is the gap the FAA is seeking to bridge.

The FAA laid out some options to recoup that $5 million at the December meeting.

The Senior Director at AOPA, Heidi Williams, among others, provided input to the FAA. For example, attendees challenged one estimate of the number of digital chart users- suggesting it was too low. Estimating a charge using that data, the FAA was told, would result in too high of an expense for pilots. This would create a conundrum for pilots when deciding what data and how much of it to purchase for navigational purposes.

The FAA initially proposed an April 2012 date to begin implementing the charges. However, the AOPA suggested that timeline was too soon. "First and foremost, the FAA has to ensure that its plans will have no negative impact on safety," Williams said. "It will have to base its decisions on sound market data, which it can only get by talking to users-companies as well as the pilots who will ultimately be using the products. Successful implementation can't be tied to an unrealistic date." (Quote from AOPA online)

As of now, it appears that the FAA will release a proposal early in 2012 to once again, solicit input. The proposal will be shared with the AOPA who in turn will share it with their members and represent their interests in further discussions with the FAA.

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