After hearing from AOPA and other users, the Department of Defense (DOD) is going to accept comments on its proposal to stop public distribution of Department of Defense flight information publications (FLIP) and the digital aeronautical flight information file (DAFIF) in October 2005.
"We've had discussions with the military and a meeting with the FAA last week, and the ramifications of this decision were dramatically underestimated," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory policy. "While we're still analyzing all of the impacts, we will be asking the Department of Defense to revise its decision, and we'll offer some realistic alternatives."
The most immediate impact of the decision on AOPA members will be the loss of Department of Defense-National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) 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 If the military navigation charts are withdrawn from the public, pilots flying outside of the United States will have to buy charts from private vendors, usually at a higher cost than the NGA charts.
But there is a hidden cost as well. Some vendors of electronic flight planning programs rely on the DAFIF database for navigation and airport data even for the United States. If their access to that free information were cut off, they would have to turn to more expensive alternatives.
However, this won't affect AOPA's Airport Directory and AOPA's Airport Directory Online. AOPA starts with FAA, not NGA, airport data that it then augments through its own data collection. This value-added data includes FBO and weather information; nearby hotels, restaurants and attractions; and rental car information. All of the information is free to AOPA members.
Ironically, commercialization of navigation data is one reason why the Department of Defense feels it has to withdraw NGA products from the public. Some countries have transferred responsibility for this safety of flight information to commercial or quasi-governmental agencies. "Some of these 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," DOD said in its notice of proposed rulemaking [ notice modification].
DOD also 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."
"It's 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," said Rudinger.
Comments on the proposal to withdraw NGA navigation products are due by June 30. Comments can be sent by e-mail to [email protected] or by mail to:
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
Mail Stop D-111, Attn: Public Release of Aeronautical Products
4600 Sangamore Road
Bethesda, MD 20816-5003.
December 22, 2004