Lockheed Martin will be taking control of flight service station (FSS) services in less than two weeks but promises the transition should be seamless for pilots.
"AOPA has been in virtually constant discussions with Lockheed Martin as it moves toward the initial FSS transition on October 4," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We want to ensure that there will be no service glitches for pilots."
About 1,900 of the current 2,000 FSS employees have accepted job offers from Lockheed Martin, which means that even the familiar voices giving your preflight weather briefings will stay the same.
If you obtain a preflight briefing on October 3 and another one the next day, there will be no difference. The same specialists, at the same locations, at the same phone numbers and radio frequencies will be providing the same services as today - only as Lockheed employees.
To ensure that the transition goes as planned, Lockheed and the FAA will operate a 24-hour operations center that will act as a point of contact to ensure continuity of services. The center will open October 3 and remain open for at least 30 days. Lockheed also has extensive contingency plans in place should any last-minute staffing issues arise during the initial transition.
"AOPA will be able to notify Lockheed of any member complaints or concerns and get a response quickly," Boyer said.
Over the next 18 months, Lockheed will consolidate and upgrade the FSS system. Lockheed's plan is to eventually consolidate the current 58 FSS facilities into 20 by 2007.
By April 2006, Lockheed will launch the Flight Service 21 (FS21) Web portal for pilots nationwide to obtain preflight briefings, file flight plans, store user profiles, and get graphical flight planning and weather products. The first FSS hub in Leesburg, Virginia, also will become operational in April, allowing those in that briefing area to receive all of the improved services from the FS21 system. The other two hub facilities, Fort Worth, Texas, and Prescott, Arizona, should be operational by October next year. The remaining 17 facilities will be upgraded with FS21 technology by July 2007.
But the consolidation of these facilities should not impact the level of service pilots receive. Lockheed has a 60-day transition plan in place, which includes a 30-day gradual transition of some employees to the new facilities and 30 days of overlapping services from the new and previous locations.
"AOPA asked for aggressive performance requirements to ensure that your telephone and radio calls to FSS would be answered quickly," Boyer said. "Lockheed must meet these customer service standards, so you should notice improved service as the FS21 technology is integrated."
After the 18-month transition is complete, pilots' telephone calls must be answered within 20 seconds and radio calls within 15 seconds. Flight plans must be processed in three minutes, and pireps must be processed within 30 seconds of receipt, 15 seconds if they are urgent. And an annual customer satisfaction survey will be conducted so that Lockheed can make sure you are getting the best service possible. (See " FAA selects Lockheed Martin to modernize flight service stations" for a full list of improved services.)
"And all of these enhanced services are being provided without user fees - AOPA made sure of that," Boyer said. "It is estimated that Lockheed's 10-year contract will actually save the government about $2.2 billion." (See AOPA's Air Traffic Services brief for more details.)
To allow briefers to devote even more time to serving you, whether you are on the ground or in the air, Lockheed has discontinued some services that do not pertain to GA briefings. For example, FSS will no longer have to respond to media requests for historic weather data; it will no longer coordinate the military's ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) flight information; and it will no longer provide information from aviation publications to nonpilots.
"Lockheed discontinued only the nonpilot services that FSS had been providing," Boyer said. "Pilot services, like distributing notams, will continue as before."
The FAA is expected to launch a Web site next week that will provide information about the transition and allow you to e-mail questions or feedback.
September 22, 2005