Air Traffic Services Brief -- Discontinuance of Public Sales of Defense Department Aeronautical Charts and Database

Air Traffic Services Brief: Discontinuance of Public Sales of Defense Department Aeronautical Charts and Database

Update

AOPA has continued to maintain dialogue with both the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding the general aviation users concerns with discontinuance of the Department of Defense aeronautical charts and database. Despite the December 2004 Federal Register notice that indicates the plan would be implemented on October 1, 2005, there will be a delay of approximately one month before a public announcement of the final plan and implementation are expected. A pre-briefing to AOPA and the aviation industry is planned for the end of October 2005 where the NGA and the FAA will provide details on their transition plan to ensure the needs of the aviation community are addressed. While AOPA does not have specific details of the plan at this point, we fully expect the agencies have taken the needs of the user community into consideration. AOPA will provide a detailed summary of the plan and how it addresses the concerns of the GA community following the industry briefing.

The issue

After several decades of making its aeronautical data available to the public, on November 18, 2004, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) announced it intends to remove its Flight Information Publications (FLIPs), Digital Aeronautical Flight Information File (DAFIF), and related aeronautical navigation digital and paper copy publications from public sale and distribution on October 1, 2005.

If implemented, this action would result in substantial impact on the general aviation community, including:

  • The loss of critical U.S. border data for navigation.
  • The loss of more than 77 percent of electronic navigation data currently only available from the NGA.
  • The loss of all NGA chart products including enroute charts for the Caribbean and South America, the supplement of Caribbean airport information, and instrument approach charts for the Caribbean and South America.
  • The loss of popular operational international navigation charts (ONC).
  • The loss of all international electronic navigation data.

The NGA produces 20 FLIP publications that cover international terminal instrument procedures, enroute, oceanic, and international supplemental planning charts. The FAA's National Aeronautical Charting Office (NACO), through commercial chart vendors, sells these charts to general aviation pilots.

The DAFIF is an unclassified database of worldwide aeronautical data that is provided free of charge to the public. Numerous vendors of electronic flight planning programs use this data to develop the domestic and international electronic chart products used by general aviation pilots.

NGA cites data security concerns and upholding term of bilateral geospatial data-sharing agreements, avoiding competition with commercial interests, and avoiding intellectual property/copyright disputes with foreign agencies as reasons for the action.

The importance to our members

Domestic impacts:

U.S. border data is critical - While the primary impact on civilian aviation users will be in the international flying arena, important aeronautical information contained on domestic products will be lost, particularly along the U.S. borders. Additionally, pilots who fly domestically use international data to maintain navigational awareness when flying in close proximity to the U.S. borders. The U.S. borders with Canada, Mexico, and Bahamas are all areas where navigation information is critical.

Seventy-seven percent of domestic electronic navigation data will be lost - Nearly a dozen vendors who produce low-cost general aviation flight planning programs for flight operations in the United States will no longer be able to use the DAFIF data to produce their domestic instrument approach route segments. The only alternative that even comes close is the FAA's National Flight Database (NFD). However, it is not as robust and does not contain more than 77 percent of the data found in DAFIF for domestic use. While the NFD incorporates RNAV instrument approach procedures and GPS overlays for conventional approaches, it does not incorporate any conventional approach procedures or route segments. Considering only 3,500 of 13,000 instrument flight procedures are RNAV or GPS, vendors rely on the DAFIF to fill the void that exists with the FAA's NFD in order to ensure pilots have access to necessary approach route segments in today's aircraft navigation systems. At least 9,500 instrument flight procedures and route segments would be lost to vendors without the availability of the DAFIF information. The loss of the DAFIF data will have an adverse impact on pilots' ability to obtain portions of domestic and international navigation data from the government, and operators will be forced to subscribe to higher cost non-federal databases.

International impacts:

Loss of FLIP products and international navigation charts - The NGA produces 20 FLIP publications that cover international terminal instrument procedures, enroute, oceanic, and international supplemental planning charts. These charts are sold to general aviation pilots by the FAA's National Aeronautical Charting Office (NACO) through commercial chart vendors. General aviation pilots will no longer be able to purchase FLIP products including all international terminal instrument procedures, enroute, and supplemental planning charts. Of particular concern for the general aviation community were the nearly 40,400 of the 114,000 FLIP products sold, including enroute charts for the Caribbean and South America, the supplement of Caribbean airport information, and instrument approach charts for the Caribbean and South America. In addition, users have expressed significant concern with the loss of popular operational international navigation charts (ONC). Currently there is no additional source for this information aside from the data released through NGA.

All international electronic navigation data will be lost - Currently, the DAFIF is an unclassified database of worldwide aeronautical data that is provided free of charge to the public. Vendors will no longer be able to use this important database to produce their general aviation flight planning programs for international operations. If removed from public distribution, vendors would have to turn to more expensive alternatives for getting the information.

After many discussions with numerous vendors, AOPA has learned that DAFIF data is used extensively in electronic flight planning programs to develop the domestic and international electronic chart products used by general aviation pilots. In many cases, companies will likely experience a total elimination of certain information, as alternative sources do not exist currently.

Background

The NGA works directly for the Department of Defense (DOD) Combat Support Agency and has been producing flight information products since the late 1940s to support worldwide missions of the DOD. The agency's mission is to provide timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial intelligence in support of national security objectives. While not its primary mission, NGA has offered its geospatial data to the FAA and the general public for use in civilian operations.

DOD now contends that its critical navigation data, currently available to the public on the Internet, is "vulnerable," and the military says it wants to eliminate "unfettered access to [navigation] data by organizations and individuals intent on causing harm," according the NGA notice.

Commercialization of navigation data is another reason cited by DOD as a reason to withdraw NGA products from the public. Some countries have transferred responsibility for this safety-of-flight information to commercial or quasi-governmental agencies. And several foreign agencies are beginning to assert intellectual property rights to the aeronautical data within their territorial limits and are refusing to provide such aeronautical data to DOD so long as the NGA makes it available to outside interests, whom these agencies view as possible competitors in the international marketplace.

AOPA's position

AOPA is opposed to the NGA's plan to discontinue all sales to the public and is pushing to keep the charts and digital database public. The NGA action will adversely affect security and safety and have a negative economic impact on civil aviation, which the NGA has failed to address in its plan to cut off public access to the navigation products it produces. Prior to any action by NGA to stop public distribution, the agency should work with the FAA to develop and implement alternative methods for making this data available to pilots and the aviation community.

Until such time that the FAA is able to provide the aeronautical data to pilots, it is imperative that the NGA continue to offer its aeronautical charts for sale and allow the FAA and companies that produce aeronautical chart products access to the NGA database.

NGA operational navigation charts (ONCs) are popular with AOPA members who fly cross-border and international flights, with the most popular charts being the enroute charts for the Caribbean and South America, the supplement of Caribbean airport information, and instrument approach charts for the Caribbean and South America.

Many AOPA members use electronic flight planning programs that rely on the DAFIF database for navigation and airport data even for the United States. If vendor access to that free information were cut off, it could impact the price and availability of these products.

AOPA also points out that it is a remarkable contradiction that at the same time the President has ordered the military to improve the reliability and availability of the GPS navigation signal to the worldwide civilian market, the military is proposing to withdraw the information necessary to make complete use of GPS.

While NGA may have valid data security concerns, AOPA believes that the agency can take steps to secure its data without cutting off access to the pilot community, who have legitimate need for this important safety-of-flight navigational information.

Status

In early December, AOPA had discussions with NGA to convey our concerns and the potential impacts that this proposal would have on general aviation operators. AOPA also met with the FAA's charting office to review the proposal and its impacts on general aviation pilots.

Subsequently, on December 17, 2004, the NGA released another notice modifying its initial notice released on November 18, 2004. This modification acknowledges that NGA would be better served by seeking comments from the public before taking any action. Its initial notice did not ask for comments. To date, NGA has received more than 200 comments opposing the action.

On March 30, 2005, AOPA met with the director of Global Navigation Services for NGA to discuss alternatives to the proposal to discontinue providing data to the public. While no agreement was reached, NGA indicated its willingness to review AOPA's issues and work with the general aviation industry and the FAA to mitigate the impact that the proposed action would have on general aviation.

NGA announced the public comment period ended on June 30, 2005, and it is currently reviewing the several hundred comments received. It also indicated it has begun dialogue with several interest groups to gain additional insight on issues identified during the comment period. NGA is expected to complete its evaluation period by mid-September, with a final decision by the October/November 2005 timeframe.

Updated Tuesday, August 21, 2007 3:57 PM