November 11, 2009
Acting on an AOPA suggestion, the FAA has activated a toll-free "flight service comment line" (888/FLT-SRVC or 888/358-7782) for pilots to comment on service they receive from the Lockheed Martin flight service station (FSS) system, operated under contract with the FAA.
"It was clear to me that this type of immediate feedback would be the only way to track down and fix all of the problems and errors," AOPA President Phil Boyer said. "Lockheed Martin's performance metrics were doing a much better job in tracking system-wide averages, but individual pilot complaints to AOPA showed us that the metrics weren't telling the full story about the quality of the briefings."
Boyer had suggested the complaint hotline during a meeting with Lockheed Martin officials earlier this month.
"This 'Phase II' of our FSS improvement effort should give Lockheed Martin and the FAA the data needed to fix all the remaining problems," said Boyer. "The online complaint form was a good start, but it didn't do enough. By the time a pilot could get to a computer to log a problem, critical details might have been forgotten. And for some, it just wasn't worth the effort to report the problem after concluding a hard flight."
With the new telephone hotline, a pilot can make a report immediately. "Plus, I thought a phone call would be easier," said Boyer. "Just make a recording while the details are still fresh."
The FAA says the 888/FLT-SRVC hotline will record comments as voice messages. Pilots can leave a message of up to three minutes. It's critical that pilots provide as much detail as possible, including date, time, and location of the briefing, and your aircraft N number. They will also need your name and a phone number or e-mail address so that the FAA can obtain more details if needed, and so that Lockheed Martin can report back to the pilot with the resolution of the problem.
Lockheed Martin readily agreed to the toll-free complaint line and even offered to start it immediately utilizing its equipment. However, as part of the stepped-up government oversight of this critical service, the FAA agreed to operate and pay for the service.
The FAA's Flight Service Operations and Safety group will collect and catalog all comments recorded on the hotline and then forward them to Lockheed Martin for action. Lockheed will respond to the complaining pilot within 15 days.
AOPA will also receive a copy of every complaint, so the association can continue its role as an independent watchdog over the quality of FSS services and as an advocate for all pilots.
The hotline can handle 80 simultaneous phone calls, so the likelihood of hitting a busy signal is small. "But if you do get a busy signal, please call back," said Boyer. "It's only by finding and fixing every hitch and hiccup that will get us to an FSS system with the performance promised."
The FAA will also use the complaint line as an "immediate indicator of system performance" and to "better manage contracted performance levels."
Pilots can also report FSS problems on the FAA's Web site and Lockheed Martin's Web site. Click on "Feedback" (you have to be registered on the Lockheed site first).
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Spot quiz: What is the METAR/TAF code for smoke?
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