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The AIP: Free safety information, or just another money-maker?

Elsewhere, the EFB is ubiquitous. United Airlines aircrew at work with their iPads

Elsewhere, the EFB is ubiquitous. United Airlines aircrew at work with their iPads

EFBNZ was a priceless asset for the New Zealand general aviator. So priceless, in fact, that it was free. For those unfamiliar with EFBNZ, it was an app written by George Richards and gifted to us. It provided all the AIP on a mobile device, with easy updates – and it removed around a kilo of hard-to-handle, ring-bound paperwork from the W and B calculation.

But as in everything else, there are a few passages rectale in GA whose mission is to spoil it for the others. When George decided to offset his not inconsiderable costs by adding a few pop-up ads to EFBNZ, up rose the Richardheads to loudly complain.

These nitwits harmed all their flying comrades, because an exasperated George quite rightly offered everyone a digital two-fingered salute – and withdrew his app.

For those who had kept EFBNZ on their devices, all was not yet lost. They could still update their digital AIP.

EFBNZ - it provided an easy and free method of storing the AIP on a mobile device

EFBNZ – it provided an easy and free method of storing the AIP on a mobile device

Until, that is, somebody at the CAA decided to destroy EFBNZ and any kind of open-source software designed to automate AIP information downloads. The EFBNZ app drew its data from www.aip.net.nz, and part of the package included an automatic download of updates. Anyone familiar with the clunky AIP website knows that manual downloads from it are incredibly labour-intensive and the database was probably designed by a roomful of chimps with special needs, originally tasked with recreating Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Suddenly, EFBNZ became unusable.

But it gets worse.

Christoph Berthoud had written a macro called FetchAIP to automate AIP downloads. You could retrieve the entire AIP to your PC with only a few keystrokes, and port it over to a mobile device.

But in late 2013, Christoph discovered that his macro – just like EFBNZ – had crashed.

Why?

And then the CAA sabotaged it

And then the CAA sabotaged it

Someone at CAA, possibly working in collusion with Airways, had introduced an element to the AIP website that meant you had to read terms and conditions and manually click an “I agree” button. This is what had wrecked EFBNZ.

AIP information has always been freely available online to aviators, but it was now obvious that someone at Airways or CAA had spotted an opportunity to turn free information into a revenue generator.

When Christoph emailed Airways and explained that his macro breached no copyright law because it was only a “switch” that facilitated downloads and made no use of data, he had to send another two more emails just to get a response (which will not surprise veterans hardened in the dark arts of dealing with the CAA and Airways).

Trent Clarke, Manager Aeronautical Information Management at Airways, displayed a stunning ignorance of software and an equal level of arrogance when he told Christoph:

I have had discussions with our Legal advisors, and we cannot comment with regard to the lawfulness of your activity and suggest that you obtain legal advice in this regard.

You should also approach the CAA regarding the appropriateness of replacing the CAA conditions of use with your suggested “in-app” disclaimer/conditions of use.

Finally, there is the issue of liability. Many of those who get involved in data distribution believe that a disclaimer is sufficient to cover their exposure, but it often is not. Even with a prominent disclaimer, you should seek legal advice on your need for 3rd Party Public Liability insurance. It is common in NZ and Australia for those involved in disseminating aeronautical information to carry suitable insurance. CAA may ask this of you before they consider giving you the go ahead to access their site. In the absence of insurance, if your product was to fail or provide erroneous or out-of-date information, then the user would look beyond you to the CAA, and if your app had circumvented their conditions of use, it may be problematic.

In brief, we can provide access to source files for redistribution under a commercial agreement, but if you want to discuss a way to interface with the CAA site, then you will need to contact the CAA.

Christoph is an author of open-source software and he is therefore prohibited from making money from it. He is a volunteer, working for nothing, for the benefit of aviators.

When Trent advised Christoph that third party liability was recommended, he obviously hadn’t read the CAA’s terms and conditions of access to AIP, where the CAA (and by association, Airways) goes to great lengths to disclaim any responsibility or liability. We must also note that much of the content of AIP (and in particular, the airfield data) is supplied, and not written by either Airways or the CAA.

What the CAA and Airways have done, in destroying EFBNZ and disrupting the FetchAIP macro, goes against the ethics of aviation safety which the CAA constantly lectures us about. It is a clear case of an authority needlessly and recklessly obstructing access to information by users of free, open-source software, at the expense of safety, in order to promote a source of revenue by licensing commercial operators to sell an AIP package. This motive is evident in a letter from Trent Clarke to GAA:

We have received feedback consistent with yours that our customers want to access AIP data using tablets (electronic means), and over the past couple of months we have been working hard to make this happen. To support this and enable the app market we have licensed data to four app providers, including three for AIP content (two of which have signalled they intend to go live in January).

A commercial developer is much more likely to build a product if the licensor can also be persuaded to make it as difficult as possible for anyone else to access the data.

I raised this issue with CAA Director Graeme Harris early in February:

GAA is now looking into Airways’ destruction of the ability to easily download AIP information to an EFB for general aviators. In this respect, I ask the Director: which of these pieces of information is more important?

– Notams

– the AIP

– Met information

I know you will correctly answer that they all have equal importance in safe operations.

I will then ask:

Why are Notams free, but MetFlight is not?

and

Why, when the AIP must be made freely available, has Airways introduced a barrier which destroys everyone’s ability to download current information to their androids or iPads?

The macros that Airways has rendered useless do not of themselves copy or use the information. They merely facilitate its downloading to a device. Airways is on shaky ground with the defence it has so far offered, and we will seek to prove that the introduction of the sign-in-and-acceptance-of-terms barrier endangers flight safety and is intended to increase revenue.

The easy and free accessibility to AIP information to be downloaded on general aviators’ devices should never be interfered with, or be subject to whatever Airways personnel deem to be desirable in the interests of third party liability insurers or its chosen professional suppliers of Apps. Airways has introduced a commercial element to the free access to information that is totally unacceptable. I hope that you will look into this without delay, have a word with whoever created this problem and require them to restore the status quo ante.

Mr Harris replied, indicating that he had not the faintest idea what I was talking about.

“It would help if you could let me know exactly what the problem is with respect to AIP access is and what Airways response was when you raised the problem with them.”

So I sent him chapter and verse of the email correspondence between Christoph and Airways, and my correspondence with Airways as well.

Printing the AIP and its updates is obsolete, costly, weighty, wasteful and unnecessary. Rather than seeking to exploit and commercialise this vital safety information, the CAA and Airways have a duty to encourage distribution via free software to any general aviator’s Electronic Flight Bag – or at least not impede it.

They need not worry overmuch about litigation, because as part of the sabotage operation, the CAA inserted the following caveats which every user must agree to:

CAA accepts no liability for any direct or indirect loss or damage of any kind arising from use of Material. The Material should not be regarded as legal advice. The CAA may change the content, format, structure or functionality of the Material on this site without notice. You must ensure that You are using current information, and must consult the latest NOTAM.

And…

This site may contain statements of persons other than the CAA. Unless otherwise stated, the CAA does not endorse the accuracy or reliability of any such material. Reliance upon any such material shall be at Your own risk.

And…

Where the limitations on liability as set out above do not apply or are unenforceable and to the extent permitted by law, the CAA shall have no liability for loss, damage or delay (including consequential, financial or economic loss, and claims for indemnity or contribution) suffered or incurred by You, whether such liability arises in contract or in tort or in any way howsoever, in respect of or arising out of or in any way connected with the provision of the Material

And…

Nothing in this clause shall be construed as any indication or acceptance by the CAA of any liability in any respect for any amount.

And…

In respect of any third party claim, action, demand or proceeding against the CAA, You agree to indemnify the CAA to the extent that such claim, action, demand or proceeding arises out of any wrongful act, neglect or default by You.

Commercial development of integrated solutions for aviators, replacing the rag-bag and disconnected information provided by Airways and the CAA, is to be encouraged. But not if it involves hindering easy and free access for those who do not need a sophisticated product, or for the authors of free, open-source solutions.

Footnote: Compare our money-grubbing CAA and Airways with how they do it in the United States. The US equivalent to our CAA Rules and AIP is available as one downloadable pdf file in E reader format for all platforms and devices for a paltry $11.95 US.

http://www.avweb.com/avwebBooks_farAIM2014.5?ET=avweb:e2737:452324a:&st=email&kw=newsletter-FARAIM2014-0.5-TextOnly

Comments

  1. Fortunately the FetchAIP programme has been updated to work with the changed layout of the AIP website and yes it can be ported to the iPad. It’s not as elegant as EFBNZ but it’s workable.

    I am sure that the FetchAIP author, Christoph Berthoud, has little to fear from CAA/Airways as the legalistic bombast sounds like it is intended to spread FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). We owe him a debt for standing up to such bully-boy tactics.

    I have a subscription to one of the approved apps, RunwayHD, and very good it is too; but it only has the maps and approach plates and lacks the arrival/departure info and none of Volume 1 data.

    I complained to Airways about this last year and received this response from Justine Whitfield – Airways Product Development Manager:

    “Airways has received consistent feedback that GAs want to access the AIP using tablets and over the past couple of months we have been working hard to make this happen. We explored different options (including setting up a team to build and maintain an app to deliver AIP and chart content) and decided the right role for us at the moment is to be an enabler of the app market by licensing data to app providers. Behind the scenes, we have altered the AIP format to fit with what the licensed app providers want and set up processes for them to regularly access this data so their apps maintain accuracy (e.g. incorporate AIP updates every 28 days) and therefore contribute to aviation safety.

    “This approach gives GAs a choice about which app to use and ultimately will let the market decide what is the right/best app(s). We believe it will also result in a faster time to market as existing app providers already have the systems in place to provide this type of content and are delivering it to other countries right now.”

  2. EFBNZ was a great app. I even contacted the author to purchase the code off him, but he seemed pretty pissed about the whole saga which was a shame.

    For me, I would have spent some $$ on the app, even a subscription to it, just like we do for the paper AIP.

    I am using Air Nav Pro now, which is “OK” just for airfield plates, but there’s nothing I have found that even comes close to EFBNZ and its ease of use.

    I do hope that the author does decide to bring it back, and hey charge for it, even @ $20 – $50 per year – better than a slap in the face from those that just want to bitch about it.

    • I wonder if you could persuade George to not sell you the source code, but revisit his app to provide the work-round for AIP updates? We can all appreciate that he is a busy man who makes his living elsewhere, but what better man to prove that paying Airways for publicly available safety information in order to make profit from an app is unethical?

      George may take some convincing, but he will know that a few twits complaining about his pop-up ads are as nothing compared to the CAA and Airways, who in this respect appear to be the real enemies of free information and flight safety.

      • Good thinking, could always put that to him, the more support we could get for this the better.

        There must be quite a number of pilots out there, in GA world and Rec world that use iPads for flying with. I myself am in the rec side of things, with a wee Alpi 200 – I find that the iPad in there with EFBNZ was a great asset and also made it easy to find what you were looking for.

  3. Bruce Burdekin says:

    For small cockpits and helicopters (where both hands are occupied with flying) the Electronic Flight Bag, either iPad or Android, is a huge step on from extracting pages from the AIP to put in your kneeboard – only to find you’ve not got the one you need when forced to divert!

    I really like the idea of a locally produced product, so if the author could be persuaded to re-start the project, I’d subscribe at even $50 a year – after all, that’s still cheaper than the AIP service, and while some people moan about it, that’s the ‘going rate’ for getting the information in a usable form.

  4. Thanks for the great write-up.

    Now that it’s February, I have seen what Airways/CAA have meant by “to support this and enable the app market we have licensed data to four app providers, including three for AIP content (two of which have signalled they intend to go live in January).”

    RunwayHD, AvPlanEFB and AirNavPro are three of the apps that now have the ability to obtain the AIP plates for a subscription fee. I’ve tried AirNavPro and AvPlan and both are great apps with similar subscription pricing options.

    The big advantage of the subscriptions through these apps are the plates are geo-referenced, so you can see your GPS position directly on the approach/departure/instrument plates. I’m sure a bit of work and effort goes into making these plates geo-referenced and I’m happy to pay about $50/year to get these.

    I’m still tempted to build an iOS app to replace the much-loved EFBNZ, just need to find some time and motivation 🙂

    Christoph

    • Please succumb to that temptation, if time and motivation allows. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of private aviators who fly so infrequently that they cannot justify the costs of advanced integrated solutions such as those licensed by Airways. GAA believes that their interests should be accepted by Airways and catered for, without impediment, by providers such as you.

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