The FAA has formally announced that it will conduct a public-private competition to determine the best way to run automated flight service station (AFSS) services. Because FSS services are so important to general aviation pilots, when the agency originally announced plans for the study, AOPA staff successfully argued the association should have the opportunity to participate in the study to ensure that the process accurately reflects the needs of users.
Aviation weather services are a critical safety function that must be provided by the government without fees to pilots, and AOPA would vigorously fight any action that would take that responsibility away from the government or 'privatize' FSS functions.
The association has provided comments as the FAA has drawn up the parameters of flight service stations' new duties. The current FSS system is run on obsolete computers from the 1970s, and current modernization efforts are behind schedule and over budget. Without significant changes, pilots will experience a degradation of FSS-provided services while the costs to the government for providing the service will continue to rise. For these reasons, AOPA's participation in this study is critical to the future of FSS.
In an A76 study (so named for the Office of Management and Budget document that describes the process) private contractors are asked to submit proposals to run a government-provided function. The government entity currently providing the service is also permitted to submit a proposal.
Ordinarily, the government entity is somewhat handicapped, because its submission deadlines are usually earlier than the private contractors'. In this case, though, the FAA has attempted to level the playing field. The agency has received an exemption that will give flight service stations the same deadlines as contractors.
"The men and women who provide flight services to America's pilots are second to none," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Unfortunately the system they're constrained to work with has become antiquated and obsolete.
"AOPA believes the federal government must continue to provide flight services to pilots without fees. One outcome of this study could be that the government continues to run the FSS system. But it may turn out that having a contractor run the service under government supervision, much like DUATS works currently, will provide flight service personnel with a better work environment and pilots with a better product."