October 15, 2008
By Warren D. Morningstar
In a surprise announcement Oct. 15, Lockheed Martin said it will be closing five satellite flight service stations. The company said that a reduction in the amount of general aviation flying, meaning fewer calls to their facilities, plus improvements to their nationwide network, were reasons for the change. Most of the stations to be closed in February are in the west; Oakland, San Diego, Denver, and Albuquerque. Macon, Georgia, also will be closed.
“We are extraordinarily displeased that the FAA, which is supposed to be managing this contract, did not consult with its ‘customers’ before allowing this,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “AOPA believes that any time there is a major change in the system, the users should be consulted first, whether it be a VOR decommissioning, tracon consolidation, or changes to airspace. With no advance notice, we can certainly understand why some of our members will be incensed at this news.”
But Boyer pledged that AOPA would keep the pressure on the FAA to ensure that service to pilots does not degrade because of the closures. Ironically, this unexpected announcement comes almost one year to the day after Congress held hearings critical of FAA’s oversight of the Lockheed Martin contract.
FAA senior management has told AOPA that it wants to know about any issues or problems pilots may encounter flight service. “We want to work with AOPA to ensure that pilots get the level of service required in the contract,” one official said. FAA noted that since the closures won’t occur until Feb. 1, 2009, there is time to make adjustments.
To report a problem or complaint, call 888/358-7782 (888/FLT-SRVC). The complaint hotline is monitored by both FAA and Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin says it can maintain the same level of service because its system routes calls to specialists knowledgeable about the particular flight area, regardless of where the specialist might be physically located. Most calls are routed to one of three hubs in Ashburn, Va.; Fort Worth, Texas; and Prescott, Ariz. These hubs already handle all in-flight and flight data functions.
“Lockheed Martin’s decision to close these five facilities may make business sense, but we won’t know until we’ve had a chance to analyze it and talk with our pilot members,” said Boyer. “But if there is any degradation of service, we’ll raise all kinds of trouble, even if we have to go back to Congress.”
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