Flight specialists rise to weather challenges

February 17, 2010

General aviation flight activity dropped in many parts of the country last week because of back-to-back snowstorms that pummeled much of the eastern United States; other weather systems brought significant snowfall to Dallas/Fort Worth and other parts of the country. At one point, snow reportedly was on the ground in 49 of the 50 states.

Pilots who wanted to fly had no problem getting briefings from Lockheed Martin Flight Services, however. Some flight specialists at the company’s hub in Ashburn, Va., stayed overnight, sleeping on cots brought in for the storm, and others carpooled to work in four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Although demand for pilot briefings and flight-plan filing was lower than normal, flight specialists were very busy handling flight data calls—especially runway closure notifications, dubbed “snowtams.” Lockheed Martin said that the specialists working the hub during the first snowstorm, Feb. 5 through 7, handled 130 percent more flight data calls than normal, with only 86 percent of the staff on duty when compared to the same weekend a year ago.

Jim Derr, Lockheed Martin Flight Services director, credited excellent planning for the ability to continue operations 24/7 with no hiccups. In addition to bringing in cots and bedding, a kitchen was set up, and a staff member who happens to be a gourmet chef prepared meals. Fuel tanks for the facility’s generators were topped off to ensure that backup power would be available if needed.

“The specialists just knocked the ball out of the park,” Derr said. “The folks were so willing—they were so professional.” And staff at the Flight Services hub in Fort Worth did the same thing Feb. 10 and 11, he added.

“The focus of the Washington, D.C., hub was to ensure that we had enough people on position to handle flight data and in-flight activity. But this was a nationwide team effort and all the facilities contributed to our success,” said Chuck Tackett, Eastern Service Area hub operations manager.

Derr said the flight services team had a trial run during a snowstorm just before Christmas, although nearby restaurants remained open during that storm and people could get out. “This was impossible,” he said of the combined February storms.