ForeFlight attended AeroNav’s December 13th informational session regarding its proposed Digital Chart Agent program. Approximately 70 professionals were in attendance representing avionics manufacturers, aviation software companies, aviation websites, chart makers, chart agents, industry associations, and aviation services providers.
We are grateful to AeroNav for organizing and hosting the meeting. It was “spirited”, complete with rants, emotional pleas, and thoughtful feedback.
Structure of the meeting:
- Fred Anderson, AeroNav’s director, presented a historical summary of the legislative actions that provide the authority for the government to produce aeronautical charts and recoup certain costs. 49 U.S.C. 44721 authorizes the FAA to produce charts and AeroNav has responsibility for fullfillment. Anderson communicated the need for the directorate to recover $5 million in costs in order to meet financial objectives promised as part of the AeroNav’s conversion to a “High Performing Organization” in 2008.
- Eric Secretan, AeroNav’s manager of Production Technology and the ATC Products Group, presented a summary of the products that AeroNav intends to include as part of its “standard digital package”.
- Deborah Sullivan, AeroNav’s planning manager, presented the proposed pricing structure: a tiered pricing structure based on chart agent subscriber counts, with discounts per subscriber for quantity, and a hard dollar cap.
- Abigail Smith, AeroNav’s Director of Business Development, presented a proposed digital chart agent agreement covering the major terms. Key provisions include no-alteration or approved alteration of products, encryption, application of copyright, audit and reporting requirements, and a minimum purchasing requirement.
- An industry brainstorming and feedback session.
ForeFlight’s Position on AeroNav’s Proposal:
- It is unrealistic – both on price and implementation timeline – and falls short of meeting a wide range of pilot needs and use cases.
- It will greatly reduce the public benefit the digital distribution program has provided for years.
- Price increases are required to meet the “no adverse safety impact” as provided by 49 U.S.C. (g)(1)(B). AeroNav cited 1985 congressional testimony that a $2.25 per chart price increase did not adversely impact safety. It is a leap of logic to apply a 26 year old data point to the much larger price increases proposed under this plan.
- It side-steps government no-copyright laws and forces digital chart agents to erect a copyright shield around AeroNav products.
- For at least these reasons, ForeFlight does not support the proposed plan.
We are confident AeroNav will substantially modify the proposal presented at the meeting. It is disconnected from market reality and based on invalid market assumptions. ForeFlight is committed to helping AeroNav find a more reasonable solution that the market will accept.
Ultimately, ForeFlight may have to raise prices if the proposal survives the legal challenge it will invite. The proposal does include quantity discounts and a hard dollar cap, so at this point we don’t foresee a big increase in prices. We are committed to keeping ForeFlight Mobile an exceptional value.
Regardless of what happens with future prices, we are committed to fulfilling subscription obligations for existing customers subscriptions. If you currently have a subscription to ForeFlight Mobile, we will continue to deliver the service you expect.
AeroNav is an impressive organization filled with incredibly talented individuals that have dedicated their careers to producing products that provide great public benefit to pilots. Many are passionate about the products they create, and it shows. This conflict is a bump in the road for both AeroNav and the companies that have flourished as a result of low cost access to AeroNav products.