AOPA fights to keep DOD navigation data available to GA pilots

June 30, 2005

AOPA fights to keep DOD navigation data available to GA pilots

It makes no sense. At the same time the president has ordered the military to improve GPS for the worldwide civilian market, the military proposes to take away some of the tools GA pilots need to use GPS inexpensively and effectively.

"This action would eliminate 77 percent of the government-provided electronic navigation data for U.S. airspace, including some 9,500 instrument approach procedures. There are reasonable alternatives to the wholesale denial of critical navigation information to pilots," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs. "We made sure the Defense Department understands the impact of taking FLIP and ONC charts and the DOD navigation database away from us."

The military wants to stop the public sale and distribution of Department of Defense (DOD) aeronautical charts and navigation databases. In a six-page response, AOPA says that could hurt safety and security, significantly increase costs for some pilots, and put some aviation companies out of business.

AOPA first told you about this proposal last December, and because of input from AOPA and other users, the DOD agreed to accept public comments before stopping distribution. AOPA pledged to provide a detailed analysis of the impacts of the decision and to offer the military reasonable alternatives, which it did in its formal comments.

"The impact is even greater than we first thought," said Cebula. "Until the FAA can develop and implement alternative methods for making this data available to the civilian community, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) must continue to provide it."

Without the NGA products, GA would lose critical safety-of-flight data.

For example, navigation data for areas adjacent to U.S. borders will become unavailable. "In the current times of heightened security awareness, it's absolutely critical to ensure pilots are equipped with as much information as possible in order to prevent security breaches," said Cebula.

Many vendors of low-cost GA flight planning programs depend upon the NGA database for the necessary information to reproduce instrument approach route segments and approach procedures. Electronic data for such common things as ILS and VOR approaches and standard terminal arrival charts (STARs) and departure procedures are not currently available from the FAA.

"Vendors and pilots would have to subscribe to a higher cost non-federal database to obtain this information," said Cebula. "The FAA is transitioning to an RNAV-centric system that will require all pilots to have access to a navigation database. The government should provide the necessary data for all users to operate seamlessly within U.S. airspace."

For many members, the biggest impact would be the loss of operational navigation charts (ONC), which include en route charts for the Caribbean and South America, the supplement of Caribbean airport information, and instrument approach charts for the Caribbean and South America.

NGA navigation products also cover much of the rest of the world. If the military navigation charts are withdrawn from the public, pilots flying outside of the United States would have to buy charts from private vendors, usually at a higher cost than the NGA charts.

As part of its advocacy efforts, AOPA earlier met with NGA officials, who reiterated their concern that continued public dissemination of the data might jeopardize bilateral agreements with other countries, resulting in a loss of international data to the U.S. military. Some of those countries have turned their charting operations over to commercial or semi-commercial operators who don't want low-cost competition from the NGA products.

"The NGA should enter into negotiations and look at alternatives to deal with the concerns of countries that have commercialized...responsibility for safety-of-flight data," AOPA said in its comments. "The DOD has failed to consider viable alternatives to the complete elimination of public sales, [which] sets an unacceptable standard for the future of aeronautical data dissemination and bilateral agreements."

AOPA also pointed out that there would be a net loss of income to the U.S. Treasury and significant loss of income to U.S. resellers of NGA products.

"AOPA strongly urges the NGA to consider the domestic and international ramifications from this action and reverse its decision to withdraw aeronautical data and products from public distribution," said Cebula. "It is vital the information currently available from the NGA continues to be made accessible."

June 30, 2005