The FAA has granted AOPA's request to participate in a government study that could change and modernize the way flight service station (FSS) services are provided to pilots. AOPA asked for the chance to provide key input on the study, especially something called the "performance work statement," which will direct the course of the study.
In a letter received this week, the FAA outlined AOPA's role in shaping the future of flight service. The FAA said that "AOPA is an important stakeholder in this process," and that the agency wanted to "ensure that the FSS A-76 process accurately reflects the needs of the users and the government." The FAA also agreed to conduct ongoing meetings with AOPA representatives during the development of the study.
"AOPA will be there protecting pilots' interests in this government study," said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andrew Cebula. "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 study, conducted under federal Office of Management and Budget Advisory Circular 76 (A-76) 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.
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 the DUAT (Direct User Access Terminal) system, with private contractors providing aviation weather services directly to pilots via computer.
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.