The future for AFPEx

If you’re a member of the General Aviation community, you can’t help but have noticed that over the summer NATS announced some important changes to the AFPEx service.

Since that announcement we’ve been listening to your feedback it’s apparent that what we said wasn’t always clear and that the message didn’t reach everyone it should have and we apologise for that.

I hope most of you will agree that we’ve tried to make amends since then by offering sign-up extensions and greater clarity over what has changed, why it has to change and how it will affect you as a pilot or airfield operator.

Having said that, I thought it still would be useful to write a short post that hopefully sums everything up in one place.

For those of you that don’t know, AFPEx is the Aeronautical Flight Plan Exchange service allows users to file and receive flight plans and associated aviation data. For a long time NATS has offered this as a free service and we know it is much   valued by the GA community. However, after a review of our regulatory obligations with the CAA, the provision of this service (other than providing it free for private pilots) was deemed to be outside of those obligations.

General Aviation image cropped

It’s for that reason that we took the difficult decision to start charging some users from April in order to recover the cost of providing and managing the service. While individual pilots can continue to use the service for free, we are now asking all other users to pay. This was understandably difficult news for some users and having taken the time to listen and reflect, we introduced a ‘fair use policy’ in June.

This means that small, low volume non-commercial airfields that send on average 20 or fewer messages a day can continue to use the service for free. And importantly, the definition of commercial activity doesn’t include those charging landing fees. After discussions and meetings with the CAA, the sort of activities we are defining as commercial include professional maintenance and engineering services, sightseeing or photography flights and licenced CAA training.

We hope you agree that asking those who use AFPEx commercially to make a reasonable contribution represents a good compromise between securing its long term sustainability and providing the service for free to the wider GA community.

In terms of next steps, over the next couple of months NATS will be closing AFPEx accounts that have been dormant for two years or more, so make sure you access your account now if you want to keep it.

We are also looking at setting a user group meeting so we can hear your direct feedback and requests that will allow us to start work on improvements to make sure AFPEx is better than ever. We’re already thinking about a tablet and smartphone friendly version to make it easier to send and receive messages on the go, but we want to hear your ideas too. Watch out for more details on that and how you can get involved soon.

I hope that makes everything clear, and once again I’d like to apologise for any unnecessary concern or confusion we might have caused over the past few months. As ever, you can email us at Data.solutions@nats.co.uk for help, or leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.

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05.11.2015

16:49

David Pulman

What would be really good would be for AFPEx to be integrated into Skydemon.

I could simply draw my route and press ‘submit Flight Plan’ – wouldn’t that be great? I’d happily pay £5 for each plan if it was that simple – after all it is rare that I and many GA pilots cross an FIR boundary, so rarely file a flight plan. I haven’t for about 4 years!

05.11.2015

17:02

John

It is difficult to balance a charge for a service (Flight planning) that was fee free for many many years when a Fax of a flight plan was submitted, to the charge being made now for Afpex. Surely the cost saving was considerable when it was no longer necessary for you to have an employee reading faxes and manually keying this information into the system. It seems now that you want not only this cost saving, but also want a fee , inspite of the fact that the user is now keying the data into the system themselves. The promulgation of this information is automatic, after all it is only a glorified E-mail system. You should be paying and have paid for the system from the savings made by not having to run the system manually with Faxes and teleprinters.

05.11.2015

23:26

Trevor Wilcock

Tablet/smartphone friendly version – yes please!

06.11.2015

09:20

Keith MacDonald

Please rewrite this application to use a standard HTML5 interface, so that it can be used on mobile phones. The icing on the cake would be if those who rewrote it were capable of designing ergonomic user interfaces, unlike the designers of the current Java implementation.

06.01.2016

10:15

Chris Brown

Hi as one of the small airfield users of AFPEx I fail to see what difference having a small maintenance facility or a small flying school makes to why we an airfield should be charged !! the flying school never file a plan over it the maintenance facility never use it , the only use we have is for weather warnings from the MET Office (Flight Safety) notifications of flights into us from overseas , so we can make sure someone is on duty to make sure they arrive safely (flight safety) ,How do you want us to notify the system of an aircraft diversion so that overdue action is not taken by the airfield that is expecting a flight . As an airfield we make no money from your service , we activate the odd flight plans so saving a job for a London FIS controller so all in all we help you out for free !! . So we decide not to pay can you tell me how you intent to notify us of flight plans that effect this airfield and can you give me a fax number so that I can start to send a requested flight plan to get into the system , Weather warnings how will these be received once you withdraw the service . Over to you now be sensible and keep the low use policy as it was please .

Chris Brown AD Manager EGBT

06.01.2016

10:41

C42 Flyer

Surely it will cost money to make a smartphone version? Many airfields will just switch to other systems like copperchase. Not all remote airstrips are on internet either.

06.01.2016

11:14

Paul Wheal

It would be really nice if AFPEx would work on iOS devices. I like the previous commentator would also be happy to pay a small charge if it were accessible via Runway HD.

06.01.2016

11:44

John Clifford

“This means that small, low volume non-commercial airfields that send on average 20 or fewer messages a day can continue to use the service for free”
Am I right in thinking that this does not include airfields with a flying school or maintenance facility (ie most GA fields) and therefore will still price a large number of GA sites out of AFPEx..?

06.01.2016

13:19

Frank

What does NATS think is the net financial benefit of this measure?

I fear it will just ‘encourage’ people not to bother with flight plans and therefore lead to a reduction in flight safety.

If there is no safety case for flight plans just dispense with them altogether – that would be the most cost effective solution.

As another poster commented the system has evolved from being able to send a flight plan via fax to the current AfPex offering which must have been introduced to save resource at the ‘cost’ of the users making the effort. To now start charging for this is adding insult to injury.

06.01.2016

13:58

R Piper

AFPEx got away with a poor user interface and deployment infrastructure because it was provided at no charge as replacement for the free fax service as part of NATS costs saving. The technical requirements means it is not really a mobile solution. It is still much like the underlying AFTN with little intelligence to assist users. Presumably as charges are being introduced, the solution will be greatly improved? In reality GA users find products such as Skydemon more attractive and it is the small airfields that submit flight plans on behalf of GA pilots that will be hit by the charges.

07.01.2016

11:22

John

The only reason GA signed up to the AfPex arrangements was so that NATS could withdraw fax and telephone services and reduce costs. As a breach of faith this takes th biscuit.

08.02.2016

14:26

Richard Breakspear

As one of the many small airfield users of AFPEx I also fail to see what difference having a parachute club, maintenance facility, flying school and numerous pilot owners, makes to why we as an airfield should be charged!

The only use we have for Afpex is to notify us of any flights to and from Europe, United Kingdom, Ireland and Channel islands, thus assisting the border control with their mammoth task of keeping an eye on the movement of persons to and from Europe and notify the relevant authority if necessary, not to mention flight safety to ensure that the flight has arrived safely.

For example from 06/01/16 – 31/01/16 we have had a total of 22 messages on our Afpex account and 3 or 4 of these were duplicates that were sent, well below the 20 messages a day that was previously mentioned.

As someone has previously mentioned before, we also activate the odd flight plan, for free and so helping spread the workload of the London FIS controller, who is always a very helpful voice behind the mic.

How do you want us to notify the system of an aircraft diversion so that overdue action is not taken by the airfield that is expecting a flight?

So we decide not to pay, can you tell me how you intend to notify us of an inbound flight plan?

How will you inform local Border Control/Police of the inbound flight from Europe?

Would you be kind enough to forward a fax number so that we can file the flight plan?

Your thoughts by return would be appreciated, especially the Border Control.

Regards

Richard Breakspear
EGTU Airfield Ops

01.08.2016

13:37

Leeroy

Has anyone had a reply to their questions yet? It would be helpful to see the responses so that similar questions are answered and therefore saving your time and efforts which seems to be the main reason behind charging for this service now.


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