January 12, 2012
By Jim Moore
New fees for digital chart products were on the horizon, but a California producer of wire-bound books of charts designed for handy cockpit use shut down because of a preliminary step by FAA, a company owner said.
Dan Johnston said EZFlightChart.com was forced to pull the plug on a service that had drawn about 2,000 customers (including subscribers and one-time buyers) because the FAA’s AeroNav program office cut the lead time on the release of digital charts from 17 days to one day prior to expiration. That change was announced in August and implemented in October.
AOPA has organized a series of meetings with FAA officials to discuss the agency’s implementation of an authorization from Congress to recover the cost of producing digital aviation charts. Another meeting is planned this month.
Pilots are concerned that the new system will reduce access to aviation charts, and AOPA is working closely with federal officials to preserve that access.
Johnston said the schedule of fees that will be imposed remains unknown, but the loss of lead time—and useful life—of the digital products that his company printed in book form rendered the product useless.
Johnston, an owner of AJ Printing & Graphics Inc. in Santa Rosa, Calif., said he developed the idea during his own flight training, convinced there was a better way to handle paper charts than folding and refolding them in the cockpit.
“We felt that our product actually increased safety,” Johnston said. “I believe it’s a distraction in the cockpit to have such a large folding chart from the FAA.”
The company obtained digital charts from the FAA at no cost, printed them, and charged $7.99 for IFR enroute charts, and combined VFR sectional charts with all relevant terminal area charts into books that retailed between $12 and $22, depending on the number of charts in the package.
Johnston said the printing company will continue to operate without loss of jobs following shutdown of the aeronautical chart division.
“Of course, we had big dreams to build it into something large,” Johnston said.
AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.
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