Flight service system is in 'crisis and failing pilots'

November 5, 2007

Flight service system is in 'crisis and failing pilots'
AOPA calls on FAA and Lockheed to address problems

Flight planning tips

If you're having trouble reaching flight service, here are some options:

Use DTC DUAT or CSC DUATS for weather briefings. They are approved weather sources and are independent of the flight service station (FSS) system. Also, you can file IFR flight plans through them, which will be entered directly into the air traffic control system. Of course, VFR flight plans can also be filed but will be forwarded to FSS. Both services can be used to close VFR flight plans. Pilots may also use DUAT to close IFR flight plans. When closing an IFR flight plan, pilots must note in the remarks section that it is an IFR flight plan and include the airport ID for the departure point and the destination. In addition, DUAT offers pireps, notams, flight restriction information, and the option of filing a Washington Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) flight plan.

Pireps and notams are available through the Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS) Web site. You can also find other helpful weather information there, such as TAFs and METARs.

Temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) can be found on the FAA's Web site. AOPA Online provides security-related notams, graphics, and other information.

If you do talk with a briefer, make sure you have all the correct airport identifiers, VORs, and intersection names. The briefer may not be from your area and names without identifiers will be meaningless.

If your local flight service station is no longer in operation, call the local number for another nearby station if you are having long hold times via 800/WX-BRIEF.

If you are planning to operate in the Washington, D.C., ADIZ, call the old number for Leesburg flight service (866/225-7410). The number is now dedicated to Washington Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) operations and goes to the Washington hub.

If calling FSS en route, use 122.2 as your first option. The transmission coverage area is greater. More than one FSS may be available to respond. The remote communications outlet (RCO) goes only to one FSS.

See Lockheed Martin's Web site for more information on FS21.

Problems with the flight service station (FSS) system are not getting better and, in many cases, seem to be getting worse. AOPA is calling on the FAA and Lockheed Martin to immediately address everything from technical glitches to briefer misinformation, issues that are now affecting safety.

"In short, the FS21 (twenty-first century) system is in crisis and failing pilots. Based on the hundreds of complaints that AOPA has received in the past month, it is clear that the technical and operational problems plaguing FS21 are now affecting safety," said AOPA President Phil Boyer in a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey. "The FAA and Lockheed Martin must immediately address the problems and implement a plan to bridge the service gap and provide critical FSS safety of flight services."

AOPA has met with Lockheed officials several times in the past few weeks, including high-level executives, but service has continued to deteriorate. Despite the problems, the company is pressing forward with its aggressive consolidation plan. The FAA and Lockheed have done nothing to reach out and explain the problems to the aviation community.

The most significant problems are total system outages (three in the past two weeks, with the longest lasting more than an hour), computer glitches, excessive hold times, dropped calls, and poor quality briefings/service.

In many instances, when pilots do get through, the specialists have no "local knowledge" and cannot provide basic service such as weather products and the filing of flight plans and/or critical notams.

At the very least, Boyer said the FAA and Lockheed should provide a way for pilots to file and activate flight plans, without experiencing excessive hold times or dealing with briefers who lack proper training and experience.

AOPA expects the FAA to hold Lockheed to at least the minimum standards of its contract, even during the transition period. This is what pilots need, he said, and they cannot wait until the consolidation is completed in August.

May 11, 2007