Last week, the FAA's AeroNav division held a meeting in Washington D.C.—where the public and press were excluded—to discuss charging fees for users of their digital chart data. Today that data is free to application developers and end-users (pilots).
During the meeting, Fred Anderson, AeroNav's Director, presented a historical summary to the approximately 70 attendees (which included movers and shakers in the app development, avionics, and aviation services community) citing the reason for the proposed fee increase. Anderson said the FAA division needed to recover $5 million in costs in order to meet their financial objectives promised in 2008. The $150 per pilot fee is based on AeroNav’s calculation of 33,000 end-user pilots distributing the $5M shortfall; a number most agree is incorrect.
Another plan was presented regarding a flat-fee charged to developers based on the number of end-users they sell apps to. In either case, critics see this as just another "user fee," and call into question the authority that would allow the FAA to charge pilots in light of the fact that statutes prevent the FAA from charging users for the costs of collecting data, and AeroNav exists only in the support of pilots "to promote safe aeronautical navigation."
Safety is a concern if pilots decide to forego the costs of current plates and charts and instead opt for out-of-date ones, similar to many pilots using expired GPS databases to save costs. Another fear is that pilots would have to submit credit card information to the FAA, raising privacy and data control issues.
Many questions linger in the aftermath of the FAA's meeting. Even a hint of the plan back in November had raised enough concern in the industry that there was a petition on the WhiteHouse.gov website asking the FAA to cancel its plans to raise fees. Unfortunately the petition didn't receive enough signatures and was removed December 14th.