[Update 2006-11-20: it looks like they've pulled even the small amount of Canadian data that they can get from the FAA database — there's nothing but US airports and navaids in there now.]
Well, the DAFIF — the free database of worldwide aeronautical information that used to be available free from the U.S. Department of Defense — has been gone for a few weeks, and it’s having repercussions that I hadn’t anticipated. It turns out that the most popular flight planning web site, Aeroplanner, was using the DAFIF for their non-U.S. data, so Canada has suddenly gone blank: aside from a few major airports and navaids that happen to be in the FAA database, and the segments of a few airways crossing the border, the airways, intersections, navaids, airports, terminal airspace, control zones, restricted airspace, and everything else that used to crowed their online maps is gone, leaving the site useless for anyone (Canadian or American) planning a flight that doesn’t stay entirely within U.S. airspace. The company graciously offered me a pro-rated refund for my subscription, though I decided not to take them up on it.
Lots of other people use the DAFIF for cheap or free flight planning, for controlling aircraft in flight simulators, and much more. In many cases, they can keep using the last public edition, which will slowly get more and more out of date, but that obviously wouldn’t be a responsible choice for a real-world online flight planning service like Aeroplanner.
Who’s the real villain?
So who should we be mad at? The U.S. DoD is an obvious target, since they’re the ones who pulled the data from public use, but let’s step back and think for a second:
- In the U.S., the FAA still publishes a free database for American airspace, with a bit of Mexican and Canadian thrown in.
- Almost every other country in the world refuses to release its air navigation data free to the public, period.
- The U.S. military used to make up for that by publishing a lot of every other country’s airnav data as well.
No more charity
Sure, I wish they still published the DAFIF (and I suspect their reasons for stopping are silly), but the real villains here are the Canadian government, the British government, the Australian government, and every other government that refuses to release free information to their own citizens about their own airspace. We were lucky that the U.S. DoD was willing to help cover that disgraceful gap for so many years, and that they have given us a good starting point for a free,collaborative airnav database (we still have the last DAFIF edition to start from), but our years of living off American charity have now ended.
A new start?
Speaking of free, collaborative databases, Paul Tomblin has set up a wiki to start discussing life after DAFIF. Why not swing by and take a look. And don’t be surprised if, in the meantime, your favorite flight planning tool suddenly turns Canada into the huge, empty white space that the rest of the world always imagined it was.