When Lockheed Martin takes over flight service station services October 4, pilots probably won't notice the difference.
Phone numbers, frequencies, and even FSS specialists all are expected to remain the same. And AOPA has been assured that Lockheed Martin has detailed transition plans to ensure that pilots receive the services they need.
"We are in regular communication with the FAA and Lockheed, and they understand the importance of maintaining service to pilots throughout the transition period," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "If members have problems with FSS, we can work quickly to get those concerns addressed."
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 issues arise during the initial transition.
"This kind of planning is important for a smooth transition," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "We have worked closely with the FAA throughout this process to ensure that changes are managed carefully, and with the needs of pilots in mind."
AOPA has been told that about 1,900 of the current 2,000 FSS employees have accepted job offers from Lockheed Martin, which means that many of the familiar voices giving your preflight weather briefings should stay the same.
Looking to the next 18 months, Lockheed will consolidate and upgrade the FSS system. Lockheed's plan is to consolidate the current 58 FSS facilities in the continental United States into 20 by 2007.
By April 2006, Lockheed is expected to 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 is scheduled to 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 should 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. "Contractually, Lockheed must meet these customer service standards, so you should notice improved service as the FS21 technology is integrated."
AOPA has also stressed the importance of maintaining and supporting both existing DUAT services during the lengthy transition. DUAT providers will continue to provide an important backup system and will allow pilots to continue to use existing flight planning software based on the DUAT system.
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.)
September 29, 2005