The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is insisting that it be part of a government study that could change the way flight service station (FSS) services are provided to pilots. In personal meetings with FAA officials and in a follow-up letter, AOPA asked that it have input on the key document, the "performance work statement," that will direct the course of the study.
"Flight service stations are used almost exclusively by general aviation pilots. And with more than 388,000 GA pilot members, AOPA should play a key role in identifying requirements related to aviation weather services, notams, and other safety functions performed by FSSs," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs. "We must have a voice in this study to ensure the outcome meets the modern-day needs of general aviation pilots."
The FAA has started an 18-month "A-76" study of the FSS system, which provides weather information and regulatory notices (notices to airmen) to pilots, along with search-and-rescue coordination and other aviation services.
The study, conducted under federal Office of Management and Budget guidelines, will compare the cost and value of continuing to provide FSS services by the FAA versus contracting some services to outside sources. The A-76 process does recognize that government employees may be the best providers of the service.
"Aviation weather services are a critical safety function that must be provided by the government without additional fees to pilots," said Cebula. "AOPA would vigorously fight any action that would take that responsibility away from the government or 'privatize' FSS functions."
But that doesn't preclude the possibility that private contractors supervised by the FAA might provide some services more efficiently. For example, in the 1980s the FAA implemented DUATS (Direct User Access Terminal system), with private contractors providing aviation weather services directly to pilots via computer.
"The current FSS system is in a state of decline and disrepair, through no fault of the hardworking FSS specialists who are doing their best to provide critical safety information to pilots," said Cebula. "But the system is still run on obsolete computers from the 1970s. Current modernization efforts are behind schedule and over budget.
"Without significant changes, pilots will experience a degradation of FSS-provided services while the costs for providing the service will continue to rise," said Cebula. "It only makes sense that the government follow a business model for better management of its programs.
"AOPA staff is committed to seeing that all pilots benefit from this effort to identify the needs for a more modern flight service station system," said Cebula.
The 388,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. Some 60 percent of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.