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.
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 [email protected] for help, or leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.
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