October 1, 2010
By Dan Namowitz
The FAA has extended Lockheed Martin’s five-year contract to operate automated flight service stations until 2013, effective Friday, Oct. 1. Another two-year option is possible at the next contract expiration.
“Lockheed Martin is proud of the service its flight service specialists provide to the general aviation industry,” said Jim Derr, Lockheed Martin Flight Service program director, in a news release from the Bethesda, Md.-based company. “We are excited to have the opportunity to continue providing the most accurate and reliable flight service briefings available.”
There’s no question that this is flight service for a new century. A review of the first five years, metrics by which performance is judged by users of the system, and the outlook for the future receive examination by AOPA Pilot Technical Editor Mike Collins in “Flight Service Five Years Later” in the October AOPA Pilot. “The past five years saw considerable change. The FAA used 58 facilities and 2,300 employees to deliver flight services. After closing seven facilities in February 2010, Lockheed Martin is providing a comparable level of service with six facilities and 642 employees. Technology makes it possible,” he wrote. In addition to flight service specialists, site supervisors, engineering staff, and other support personnel bring the total assigned to AFSS to around 870, according to Derr.
Most pilots know that it wasn’t always an easy transition. The good news is that after overcoming significant challenges that marked the program’s low point in the summer of 2007, “we’re definitely in a much better place,” with service levels steadily improving and Lockheed Martin “very responsive” to complaints, all of which the company diligently researches, said Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airspace and modernization. “Each and every complaint is followed up on in a timely manner and those are shared with AOPA and the FAA monthly,” she said.
Another positive has been the company’s willingness to confer proactively on its strategies for managing challenges such as service-demand spikes associated with system-taxing events like the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis.
In this AOPA Live video, Williams joins Warren Morningstar, AOPA Live executive producer, to discuss how the transformed FSS system stands in October 2010, what goals lie ahead, and some new features that pilots can expect to become available in the short run, and later. They include:
“Without hesitation, we can say that the level of service and customer service offered by Lockheed Martin Flight Service specialists has continued to improve over the course of the first five years. Once we overcame those initial hurdles, we’ve seen Lockheed Martin make great strides in working to provide a level of service that general aviation pilots are accustomed to and have grown to expect,” Williams said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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