The High cost of maintaining database currency.


It is appalling what it costs to maintain the various databases associated with flying my own aircraft.

How do you cope with this cost?

I have a panel mount GNS 430W and a couple of handheld GPS’s. The 430W not only needs the NAV DATA updated, it also has a terrain database that needs periodic up-dating. In addition to the databases, buying the updated charts/maps is also expensive. If you add in the cost of keeping an electronic subscription for charts/maps, the cost is even more exorbitant. I have avoided buying an electronic flight bag for exactly this reason.

The NAS database is essentially owned by the U. S. Government; however, the format read by the various GPS/FMS’s is proprietary to the manufacturer and no one else can compete. When you buy one of these systems, you are “married” to that format"…for better, or worse.

As more and more aircraft are equiped with “glass cockpits”, the costs go higher and higher, not lower as economy of scale would suggest…what’s going on with that?

Jeppesen has the inside track on providing the actual databases in the various proprietary formats, but I would highly suspect (and this is just a guess) that there is a cozy little kick-back from Jeppesen to the manufacturer for each subscription/up-date. The FAA is a tacit supporter of this data cartel since one cannot legally shoot a GPS/RNAV approach using an out of date database EVEN IF THE SPECIFIC APPROACH HAS NOT CHANGED and matches a previous one in every respect.

Personally, I would love to see AOPA, or some other pro-aviation organization provide data-bases. But could it wrest this “cash-cow” away from the manufacturer’s/Jeppesen? I doubt it.

How do you cope with this cost?


Errr, I don’t… Don’t get me started on why the costs for a single update or subscription are outrageous. Seems, just like single FBOs on a field, Jeppesson needs a competitor.

I just updated my 2 year old Garmin Non WAAS 430 card this month for just under $300 and the only reason was that I was hoping to fly to Ohio this weekend (weather forecast too dicey so using SWA instead). My handheld 296, it’s about 3 years old for the database, but half the time, I don’t even turn the unit on in the plane.

Since all the airports I fly to have ground based approaches, I will request those for formality sake and use the GPS as “situational awareness”. :wink: Since 2G2 didn’t have a ground based approach (only GPS) I had no choice but to update my card.

My airport has the GPS Alpha and VOR Alpha approach.

Same exact approach on the very same approach plate, so for formality sake, I request the VOR alpha even though like you said, the approach has not changed from cycle to cycle and the GPS is the same exact approach. I saw no reason for updating my card.

In a nutshell, I use my 430 and insure my Nav2 is setup for the ground based stuff so that I am setup to be fully “legal”…


So, in essence, the capability to shoot that approach into 2G2 cost you $300!

That’s pretty steep.

Actually, more and more people are doing what you do: avoid the GPS/RNAV approaches and just buy the paper to fly an approach via ILS/VOR/NDB.

Also, no SIDS/STARS without an up-to-date database, right?


Yep, beyond steep! :smiling_imp: Worst part is it cost me $300 and I am not even going to get the benefit of shooting the durn approach as by the next time I go up, it will be outdated again. Plus, the weather is forecasted to be severe clear on Friday where I wouldn’t have even considered anything other then the visual. Yep, don’t get me started

Not my stronger point in IFR since I have only flown one STAR for the real deal but I was under the impression that SIDS and STARS are ground based since they were available before GPS days?

I know the 430 has the these functions available, but I can’t remember if the unit gives the “advisory” to be used for situational awareness or if indeed there is a GPS overlay like my KMBO VOR Alpha approach? If the GPS mirrors ground based STAR as I am thinking, you can bet the STAR will be loaded in the 430 and my NAV two will have the appropriate ground based fix tuned in with the correct radial on NAV2 for legality sake. :wink:

IF it is indeed GPS only and not an ground based overlay, I most certainly would not fly the STAR or DP on an outdated card just like I wouldn’t a GPS approach.


More and more of the SIDS/STARS out of the big airports are RNAV. If your database is out of date, you have to ask for an alternate. (“After takeoff, fly runway heading for vectors…”, YES!)

As long as you can fly the SID/STAR on a VOR, you’re okay…where it gets fuzzy is if you need DME; can you use the GPS distance with an out of date database? I think, “yes” as long as you verify the lat/long of the VOR.


I do know you can use the GPS in lieu of DME. … _lieu.html

Does this add any clarification to what you are asking above since DME distances (as I know and understand it) are based on VORs and not intersections like a GPS RNAV approaches / SIDS or STARS?


This is a very funny thing as I was just talking about it at work the other day with a part-time pilot that we use.
We have a Trimble that gets updated from a company subscription, but we also have a hand-held 296 that never gets updated.
I was bitching about the cost of operating a GPS. first the cost of buying a unit it crazy then you have to pay out the A*s to keep it updated.


From a “technical-legal” standpoint you have to be VERY careful about operating with an expired database when operating IFR. For example, there are certain Q routes you cannot fly, even if you verify the lat/longs. While I know that the regs say the GPS can be substituted for an ADF, or a DME, the regs are not so clear as to whether this can be done with an expired database on a published SID/STAR. I will defer to the lawyers and nit-pickers on this.

Obviously, in 999.9 cases out of 1000, it won’t make a bit of difference all legalities aside, but should there be an incident…

I just hate that Jeppeson and the manufacturers rape us so badly that we even have to discuss this.


Just heard from a guy who shares a database subscription for his GPS. He and his partner swap back and forth on who gets the latest update. Since 90% of their flying is VFR, this works. When one of them needs to make an IFR flight, they swap out and make sure that person has the latest card.

Individually, neither of them thought a subscription was worth the money.

This brings the cost down to about $150/year which is a little closer to reasonable. I suspect that even a three, or four-way swap might work if the partners lived close to the airport.


I was thinkin’ about maybe getting a Garmin Aera 560, or maybe something similar. I’m assuming it uses the same database updates as the panel mounted units.

I tried searching Garmin’s Web site, but can’t seem to find any information about aviation database updates. Reading through this thread, I gather an annual subscription is $300 per year. How many database updates do you get in a year?

1mooneymite mentions a terrain database. How much does THAT cost? Any info on that at Garmin’s site?


I think the WAAS database is $370 / yr. The second one is an additional $130 / yr. (we have dual gps). On the WAAS unit the terrain is seperate and must be bought from Garmin. Don’t forget the $50 / mo. for XM radar and another $210 / yr for the MFD terrain update. I think the paper charts and plates is about $1000. That comes to well over $2000 / yr not counting the terrain update for the GPS. Also the terrain updates from Garmin does not allow the use of the Skybound unit but, requires a piece of hardware from Garmin. $300 for the hardware and another $500 yr for that data base for two GPS units. It is a rip off.


Just returned from EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh. On the way back I picked up a Piper Arrow with a Garmin 430W. A few comments on the 430W and Jeppesen.

The aircraft was purchased before going to Oshkosh and was in for a Pre-buy so I could not pick it up before AirVenture. I assumed (correctly) the 430W databases would be out of date and spent time at the Garmin and Jeppesen exhibits to find out the best way to get updates.

Garmin was helpful and explained the Terrain Database does come from them and most pilots only update the database every other year or so because the earth doesn’t move all that much. However, part of that database is the Obstacle database and any new towers and wind turbines constructed since the last update will obviously not show. I asked why they used a propriety data card and was told that several years back when the 400/500 unit were developed there were no industry standard memory cards they could use so they developed their own128MB and 512MB data cards. (Right, no SDRAM or Compact Flash 4 or 5 years ago and they still can’t modify the data card to take a SDRAM) ($350 @ Garmin vs $15 @ Wal mart) (And the SDRAM cards are in the GB range not MB)

At Jeppesen they told me they are the only source for the Aviation Database updates and offered a “Show Special”. A one year subscription for $380 (regular price now) and they would “GIVE” me the Skybound USB to Garmin propriety card adapter for FREE. (a $50.00 value) Whoopie ! I asked why the updates were so expensive and they told me they get the raw data from each State, FAA, Foreign country, and NACO databases and merge all the data into one database which is then downloaded the the Garmin propriety card.

Anyway, when you have a monopoly you can set your own rules for supply and demand, which is, as much as they can get. So, I purchased a one year database subscription for $380.

You can legally fly IFR with an out of date database if you verify all the data you will use has not changed. Departure, Enroute, Arrival, Approaches, Alternates, unexpected diversions, etc, etc. Just not practical. If anything went wrong, any lawyer could find a piece of data which is not current and it’s “Pilot Error”.

After I returned home I had an email from Jeppesen stating they could not process my credit card for the subscription purchase. I call the phone number the Jeppesen representative gave in the email and spent 45 minutes on hold before a real person answered. Then they had to transfer me to the correct person, another 5 minute hold. When the rep finally answered, I was disconnected after 15 seconds. I can not understand how Jeppesen can stay in business with that kind of attitude towards their customers? Oh, Yes! Now I recall, it’s that monopoly thing!

Right now I am so pissed off at Jeppesen :imp: I will never recommend their products. I will steer my students to Sporty’s, Gleim, or King for ground school and other training products and when a new kid on the block offers an Aviation Database for the Garmin 430W, I will jump at the opportunity to do business with them.


Hell, even Jeep wants a couple hundred dollars to update my SO’s GPS database in her 6 month old Jeep. And that is for a one time update!


The update DVDs for my two Mercedes are $325 and $350 respectively annually. My most recent purchase was the DVD for my GL450 from Navteq for $350 PLUS shipping, which entitled me to the “latest” updates. What I received was a DVD for “2009 and 2010” containing data from 2008.

I get lifetime updates for my Garmins for ~$125 and can download the latest updates three to four times per year forever.

The GPS in my GL450 is so poorly implemented that I keep a Garmin Nuvi in my glovebox as a backup.

Let’s hear it for the monopolies and their captive customers (Apple!).


I have a single Garmin 420 in my airplane, and I use a central and east coast DB subscription from Jepp, rather than the full, national DB. That keeps the cost in the mid 200’s if memory serves.

I use to get my local enroute chart and NJ/NY approach plates through an annual subscription (about half the price of using local pilot store).

After many months of trying two systems, I’ve decided to discontinue CONTINUOUSLY buying approach plate books for other states. Instead, I simply print the plates for my destination and alternate if it’s outside of NY/NJ (since it’s one book to go west, PA, another to go south, and yet another book to go E/NE).

I do keep relatively recent (but still expired) plates for N/S/E/W in the plane for emergency use (ie. diversion in IMC to an unexpected field). In that case, I’ll ask the controller to verify the issue date of the chart. If it doesn’t match, I’ll plan on asking for the pertinent data. Yes, inconvenient, and doesn’t scale for every flight…but then, it’s only going to happen once in a blue moon. The cost of subscribing to 4 sets of approach plates isn’t too enticing. Much cheaper to just print on demand.

I’m considering dropping the subscription to my home state. I realize that I barely fly IFR in NJ/NY, I always seem to be going somewhere else.


Thanks for the mention, coma24 - You are in a tough place for IAP’s - NJ tends to be cut off from anywhere but due north. Buying a book (so you have all the options in the cabin) for when you’re going to make a trip is a good Plan B.

Keep in mind, too, that as long as an IAP or DP hasn’t changed (see the date the procedure was published in the lower left corner of the plate), a procedure torn from an “expired” book is okay to use.

#17 … 769d3d651&


Heh heh, first thought that came to my mind was “iPad” :open_mouth:

I can’t believe how much bang for my 79.00 buck I got for a yearly subscription feel. “Flight following” on a sectional or an IFR enroute map for situational awareness is worth it by itself.

Oh, and that $79 per year includes approach plates, so I now can’t complain about the high cost for at least a hand held, unlike the Garmin products.


The flight following on a sectional is great but I’ve found, and we’ve discussed here, the iPad and iPhone GPS is useless if you turn off the unit or put it down out of range for a few seconds. Airborne it flat out will not find itself again.


Did you ever try turning off both wifi and cell that we talked about a little while back? (not airplane mode)

I haven’t had your problem except in a commercial airliner of which I figured the plane was moving too fast for the processor to keep up and it could not locate itself OR the lil ole port hole of a window wasn’t sky to see the sattelites. (at the gate it locks in).

In my slowly Cessna and Piper experiences, never lost a GPS signal, in fact holds it better then my Garmin 295 from the confies of the passenger seat. My 295, I have to keep it on the glare shield or yoke for GPS reliability.

Key thing is to turn off “GPS assist” and rely strictly on the GPS chip.