End of Flip charts leaves gap in navigation data, says GA

 - November 1, 2007, 11:14 AM

The National Geospacial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) last month discontinued public access to Flight Information Publication (Flip) charts for the Caribbean, Central America and South America, eliminating a government source of aeronautical information for those areas.

Although pilots still have access to non-government-issued charts–such as those from Jeppesen, which range in cost from $49 for a High/Low En Route Trip Kit to the Caribbean, to $200 for the South America Airway Manual Trip Kit Basic–some pilot groups feel the loss of government-provided aeronautical data constitutes a safety risk and believe the FAA’s National Aeronautical Charting Office (NACO) should provide alternatives. NACO currently provides aeronautical navigation publications and digital products for the U.S.

“The government…has the responsibility to provide safety of flight information,” an AOPA spokesman told AIN. “The most affected areas for our members will be the Caribbean, especially for IFR operations and portions of South and Central America, such as Mexico.”

Melissa Rudinger, AOPA v-p of regulatory affairs, added, “The territories fall under what is known as the U.S. Flight Information Region, and the FAA has a legal responsibility for providing the navigation products to ensure safety and efficiency.” AOPA cites 49 U.S.C § 44721, which states that the FAA shall “provide aeronautical charts and related products and services for the safe and efficient navigation of air commerce.”

The FAA has considered expanding its charting functions outside the continental U.S., but no decision has been made yet, according to an agency spokeswoman. “The issues are complex and diverse,” she said. “Aeronautical data exchange involves country-to-country negotiations that are complicated by international intellectual copyright issues and reimbursable agreements.” Furthermore, the FAA would have to “carefully consider” its liability for the publication of international aeronautical data and find ways to ensure that international data is current.

Chart Makers Compete
According to the NGA, the decision to discontinue public-access Flip charts was made in 2004, when a number of foreign governments replaced government-funded mapping organizations with privately funded organizations. The international aeronautical data used in Flip charts was obtained through a military exchange program with various governments. However, when the other governments switched to privately funded mapping organizations, they threatened to stop supplying the U.S. with data if the information could be obtained for free through the NGA.

“They had to make a profit and recoup their costs,” an NGA spokesman said. “If we continued to give the data away for free, they would no longer share data with us. We would have to buy the data to fill the gaps in our database, [and] obviously we would need the money to pay for the data we used to get for free.”

The NGA discontinued public access to U.S. Flip charts last year and discontinued the remaining charts, including those in Hawaii, last month.

The FAA announced last month that effective October 25, it would be publishing a Pacific high-altitude chart and a Hawaiian low-altitude chart “in response to the retraction of NGA charts of the same geographic areas.”