NGA bans flight data from public view

Agency cites intellectual property rights as reason for policy shift

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) will remove most of its aeronautical data and publications from public view in the next two years.

That means public mapmakers and librarians will no longer have access to many of the most detailed aeronautical charts and data of the world. But they can still get maps with a scale of 1-to-250,000 to 1-to-5 million because they are less detailed.

NGA said it took this action primarily because of the growing number of international source providers claiming intellectual property rights. Mapmakers and librarians said Australia, which has the best maps for Indonesia — an important battleground in the war on terrorism — insisted that NGA no longer publish for public access the aeronautical charts and data Australia produces, pays for and shares with the agency.

"The removal of this aeronautical data from general public access will assure the continued availability of information vital to national security," said James Clapper, NGA director and a retired Air Force three-star general, in a statement.

NGA said the decision does not affect government agencies and authorized government contractors, and aviators can still get charts and data from the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA said its nautical data and publications will continue to be publicly available.

NGA will remove the worldwide Digital Aeronautical Flight Information File (DAFIF) that comes in a CD-ROM format from public sale in January 2006 and stop distributing it via the Internet in October 2006. The agency will also stop selling versions of the Flight Information Publications that cover airspace outside the United States in October 2006 and remove other versions that contain information about U.S. airspace in October 2007.

NGA said it believes it has reached a compromise with librarians and mapmakers by making available some of its aeronautical charts and data, including two maps that librarians use for research and education. The agency also gave them 22 months to adjust to the change and took six months to listen and respond to their comments, said Jim Mohan, an NGA spokesman. However, many mapmakers and librarians are still critical of the decision.

"A very bad precedent has been set whereby the introduction of any copyright-protected material renders a massive public-domain database off-limits to the public," said Kent Lee, president and chief executive officer of East View Cartographic.

"NGA could have offered a redacted version of the databases and stripped DAFIF of its Australian-supplied data so they could be kept public and available," said Patrice McDermott, deputy director of government relations at the American Library Association.

Matt Francis, a spokesman for the Australian Embassy in the United States, said Airservices Australia, a government-owned organization, operates as a corporation and sells charts and data to worldwide customers.

He said Airservices Australia published the changes to its aeronautical data licensing arrangements, which started in September 2003.

"The corporation is concerned that in the absence of a licensing system, commercial redistributors who sell the data to airlines and other customers are not bound by controls intended to ensure the data remains accurate as those customers use it," according to a press release issued by Airservices Australia in July 2003.

The NGA hit list

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will eliminate many versions of the Digital Aeronautical Flight Information File (DAFIF) and the Flight Information Publications (Flip) from public access in the next two years. DAFIF contains in-depth information about runways, airfields, airspace, navigation aids and military training routes worldwide, and Flip features detailed diagrams of global airports. Here is the timetable for removing information.

  • January 2006: DAFIF CD-ROMs.
  • October 2006: DAFIF online version, Flip versions covering airspace outside the United States.
  • October 2007: Flip versions covering airspace inside the United States.

— Frank Tiboni

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