At a congressional hearing on funding for the FAA yesterday, Department of Transportation Inspector General (IG) Ken Mead called for reducing the number of automated flight service stations (AFSSs). Mead told Congress that consolidating the current 61 AFSS down to 25 would significantly reduce costs without degrading safety or service. According to Mead, an IG investigation has concluded that benefits could be realized by consolidating AFSS sites in conjunction with deployment of the much-needed OASIS computer system. (OASIS will replace ancient, 1970s-era computers now used in all 61 AFSSs with a modern, Windows-based system.) The IG told the House transportation appropriations subcommittee that the FAA could realize cost savings of nearly $500 million over seven years by making a consolidation decision now while OASIS is in the early stages of deployment. The savings, according to the IG, would come primarily through reductions in personnel compensation and benefits, overhead, and acquisition costs, and that staff reductions could be accomplished without layoffs through retirements. The IG argued that safety would be maintained and services would improve as a result of automation and technology that will give briefers on-line access, better weather displays, and automatic flight plan processing.
"FSS services are safety critical to pilots and are an essential government function," said AOPA Vice President of Air Traffic Services Melissa Bailey. "There is no question that the program needs to be overhauled and modernized. But the government's focus cannot be on cost cutting. The focus must be on finding the most efficient and effective ways to deliver timely safety information to pilots."