...And Here, Darn it, Are The Heartbreakers
Final Compilation/Analysis by ANN Editor-In-Chief/Corporate
Insomniac, Jim Campbell
It is both the most "fun," and most
difficult task, facing the ANN staff at the end of every year --
determining who, or what, did the most to promote the cause of
aviation in the past 365 days... while also chastising those people
or entities that did all they could to undermine the many successes
the aerospace community has managed to accomplish.
Alas, 2010 saw more than its fair share of downers, aviation-wise.
Sure, "stuff" happens... but a few folks, issues, or entities
seemed to go out of their way to create problems for the world of
So... it is ANN's annual obligation to recognize a dozen or so
of our Aero-Heroes/Heartbreakers for 2010... in something of
an informal order -- Saving the 'best' for last.
Let us know what you think of our selections... whom YOU would
have liked be included, or omitted, from such a list. In the
meantime, we hope those who had something to do with this year's
selections think a little more positively about the welfare of this
industry, so that future lists become harder and harder to
Be it ignorance, arrogance or just plain incompetence, these
were the folks or topics that made our lot a whole lot more
difficult and immeasurably injured the aviation world in the past
Shame on those issues, folks, or groups that made our lot so
much tougher in 2010...
Aero-Heartbreaker: The FlightPrep Debacle
As 2010 was coming to an end, an
intriguing story started emerging concerning a patent issued to a
small company called FlightPrep, who made a number of flight
planning products used by pilots. The patent reportedly gave
FlightPrep the idea that a number of online flight planning
utilities owed them compensation for perceived violations of their
patented Intellectual Property. This caused them to start sending
letters to the 'infringers' asking for confidential negotiating in
order to define the parameters of the alleged infringement. This
effort did not get the desired result.
Most companies simply ignored them... including a free online
flight planner much favored by a number of GA and Sport Pilots
known as RunwayFinder. It was a small and useful site, it charged
no fees for its use, and obviously was not making its
founder/designer any real money. It was little more than a hobby
site... albeit a popular one.
Not getting the desired result, FlightPrep sued
RunwayFinder.com... and the industry took notice -- with a
It used to be hard to get the
aviation industry to get behind something important... but
not-so-much anymore, as the power of the Internet appears to have
handed this embattled aviation resource, RunwayFinder, a bit of
moral support as they dealt with the threat of legal action from
their pseudo-competitor, FlightPrep. The damage mounted quickly as
the industry decided that FlightPrep's heavy-handedness didn't fit
their sense of what was right or proper. A massive amount of
support rallied to the defense of RunwayFinder, while FlightPrep
attempted to explain, clumsily, their defense/rationale on their
corporate blog... but WITHOUT allowing comments onsite (and judging
by comments elsewhere, they probably got tired of the invective...
as by then it would have been hard to find a more unpopular
aero-company than FlightPrep). Later; FlightPrep removed a number
of complaints and negative comments from their FaceBook page... it
seems that FlightPrep did not suffer criticism willingly.
While FlightPrep eventually scared RunwayFinder.com into
shuttering its site after filing a lawsuit claiming over $3 million
a month in damages, (while others reportedly shut down even before
getting sued), it did reach an agreement with skyvector.com (who
reportedly made a deal, which they are not allowed to discuss,
based on the anticipated costs of fighting the patent). Meanwhile,
FlightPrep continued to wage a losing battle. Industry reaction
continued sharply negative with many indicating that the
FlightPrep patent was seen to be "broad and over-reaching."
The criticism and invective grew... from within and outside
aviation... even drawing negative commentary from the Electronic
Frontier Foundation (though aero-associations like AOPA and EAA
remained silent -- and unresponsive).
Research was published showing a number of examples of online
flight planning utilities created prior to the earliest initiation
of the patent application by FlightPrep's Stenbock & Everson.
Industry giants Jeppesen and their client AOPA, as well as
FlightAware and fltplan.com all denied FlightPrep's attempts to
seek compensation... thereafter refusing FlightPrep's attempts to
negotiate with them.
And while all this was occurring FlightPrep continued to shoot
themselves in the foot with deadly accuracy -- with tactics many
saw as both "bullying" and selfish. NavMonster.com shut down in all
the hub-bub... to reappear weeks later with something of an
agreement in place allowing them to continue -- though rumors
persist that the agreement is a tenuous one. RunwayFinder vowed to
fight the legal assault and launched a fund-raising drive to deal
with the immense costs of a defense... and found the community
rallying to their side with money, petitions and tremendous moral
support... while the tarnished rep of FlightPrep continued to get
dragged through the mud.
In and amongst all this, ANN, which had been reporting each
incident blow by blow, started receiving threats... and identified
key elements of that threat that suggested that someone at
FlightPrep had cooperated with the process by allegedly either
sending the threats themselves or offering up emails of those who
had written them to complain of their tactics to the person who did
transmit the threats ... and then it got REALLY weird.
If there was any question as to the temperament and ideology
behind FlightPrep's motives, a message sent by FlightPrep Boss
Roger Stenbock pretty much answered them. In an
email responding to the mounting criticism of their actions,
Stenbock wrote that, "I base my affairs on the principles on which
this country was founded - liberty, free enterprise, fairness, and
the rule of law, not on the collective rage of a mislead mob
stirred up on the internet."
Well... the 'mob' didn't like
that... pointing ever more to the arrogance, secrecy, bullying and
perceived greed of FlightPrep as the actions of a company that had
little regard for the aviation community and seemed to be motivated
only by the lure of compensation for a patent that, by now, was
widely viewed as shaky and destined to fail under any serious legal
assault. While the company eventually answered a few softball
questions, it eschewed any real dialogue over its actions and
plans... even refusing to answer a dozen questions respectfully
postured by ANN a few days ago... ostensibly for legal reasons
(while answering others that weren't asking 'serious' questions).
It was pretty obvious that FlightPrep had no intention of answering
anything of a substantive nature.
During all these machinations, a "BoycottFlightPrep" online
petition gathered well over 1200 cyber-signatories, and reports
reached ANN that the anti-FlightPrep sentiment was, indeed,
negatively impacting FP's bottom line in a big way. And yet... no
contrite apology came from FP for trying to bully the industry into
submission... there was no mea culpa or attempt to fix their rep...
just stony, arrogant, silence. And that's where we stand... with a
few 'bombs' reportedly ready to drop as the inevitable legal
process works its way to an eventual confrontation.
Add it all up and a few things are obvious... right or wrong
(patent-rights-wise) FlightPrep has acted like a school yard bully
and carried itself off poorly. They've shown little regard for the
effects caused by the loss of some valued flight-planning utilities
-- effects which many feel reflect negatively on GA safety.
Further; investigations by ANN have uncovered a number of
questionable histories involving Stenbock and company's prior
business practices that lead us to believe that the FlightPrep
matter may get a bit more ugly before any possible resolution.
There is more info on that to follow shortly... but testimony about
Stenbock's business practices in 1989 certainly worried one Circuit
Court Judge enough to rule against him in a dispute with some
former business associates -- noting that, "Either Mr. Roger
Stenbock is not telling the truth and has not told the truth in
this courtroom, or he has perpetrated a fraud upon his fellow
shareholders that has gone back over a number of years..."
And from there, it reportedly gets even more ponderous. More
details to follow.
FlightPrep has, indeed, been awarded a patent that required over
half a dozen failed attempts to finally yield success. There is
plenty of prior art to suggest that the unique aspects of the
FlightPrep patent may not survive a serious legal assault.
FlightPrep's bullying and legal actions have been a blight on the
aviation business and their ethics/attitudes appear suspect. They
do not appear to be, even remotely, good 'aero-citizens' and at a
time when aviation needs to band together to survive, their actions
cast an embarrassing pall on all of GA. Records, reports and
interviews suggest that the tactics and negative behaviors of
Stenbock and FlightPrep are not unique to this situation and we
fear that even more confrontational and negative actions may
The FlightPrep debacle may, indeed, go down as one of the most
foolish scenarios ever perpetrated on the GA business and we fear
for the damage this may do to an already embattled industry.
ANN calls upon FlightPrep to apologize for their tactics, to
back down on the threats, and quit harassing valued GA utilities
that have asked for so little and offered so much to the GA world.
If they must insist on the patent fight, surely there is a far more
civilized way to conduct their business and we urge them to do so.
In the meantime, we support the legal fund-raising for RunwayFinder
and do believe and expect them to prevail so long as they are able
to afford and mount a capable legal defense. ANN will donate to
this fund and do so because we believe it to be in the best
interests of GA.
Finally; ANN will accept no advertising, sponsorship or
associated revenues by FlightPrep or any companies affiliated with
same. - Jim Campbell, ANN E-I-C.