It's been eight months since Lockheed Martin took over the automated flight service station (AFSS) system from the FAA. How are they doing so far?
We asked AOPA members. Their opinion? Service is pretty good overall, but there are spot problems.
"AOPA will use this data in its ongoing monitoring to ensure that Lockheed Martin lives up to its promises to pilots," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "We'll also present it to the Department of Transportation's inspector general and other officials charged with overseeing Lockheed Martin's performance."
Nearly three-quarters of the members responding to AOPA's survey rated briefers' professionalism and courtesy, general subject matter expertise, and local geographic and meteorological knowledge "good" or "very good."
Nearly 70 percent said their calls were "usually" or "always" answered within one minute.
Pilots routinely flying IFR - who generally tend to contact FSS more often - were more satisfied with the overall level of service than VFR pilots.
But that's not to say that it's all rosy in the brave new world of a private contractor-provided flight information services.
About 60 percent of members said that their calls were normally routed to the closest FSS. But for those pilots who had calls sent to other facilities, 20 percent said the quality was worse than their home AFSS.
Distant briefers "don't know the area and are not familiar with where the airports are, the airspace, restrictions, and weather patterns," wrote one AOPA member. "They have trouble and are not generally willing to help as much as the local briefers."
Members also have mixed experience on the length of hold times waiting for a briefer. Overall, only a small number - about 13 percent - of respondents reported that their calls were "seldom" or "never" answered within one minute.
But the experience varied among individual AFSS facilities. Boise and Altoona scored the worst hold times - in pilots' perception - while Buffalo and Albuquerque scored the best.
And not surprisingly, pilots' perception of overall service ranged across the board, just as they did when the FAA ran the AFSSs.
"The change in attitude, friendliness and professionalism is amazing," wrote one AOPA member. "Plus no more waiting! I think it is great."
But "I have had to wait for as much as 15 minutes to get a briefer on the line," wrote another, "and then they didn't seem like they could care less about what I wanted or needed."
"Clearly, Lockheed Martin hasn't yet achieved all of their goals," said Cebula, "but that was to be expected. So far they are maintaining service levels, and we will continue to push them to achieve the improvement they promised."
August 3, 2006