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Staffing, computer glitches at FSS cause problems for mid-Atlantic pilots

Staffing, computer glitches at FSS cause problems for mid-Atlantic pilots

It was not the weekend for things to go awry. The mid-Atlantic area was seeing its first nice flying weather of the year. Just ask the birds. Then came a series of glitches at the Leesburg, Virginia, Flight Service Station (FSS), leaving pilots confused and briefers overwhelmed.

In its watchdog role, AOPA acted swiftly to isolate the problem by receiving feedback from members and traveling to Leesburg. Here's what we found:

The facility recently began transitioning to the main hub of Lockheed Martin's consolidated system. Most of the staff was in intensive training, leaving a skeleton crew. On Friday night (April 20), the phone lines were transferred to the hub. With the great weather, pilots were phoning, but their calls were being routed to the next available briefers in places as far as Fort Worth, Texas. The briefers were unfamiliar with the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) procedures and gave inaccurate or incomplete information and, in some cases, misfiled flight plans.

In addition, there was a software glitch that occurred when pilots tried to file multiple flight plans, as is often the case for ADIZ operations. A similar glitch also occurred in Houston, but it was fixed on Sunday.

Lockheed told AOPA that it is taking the following steps to resolve the problem:

  • The call default has been reset so that calls do not roll out of the Eastern service area. It may increase hold times, but pilots will be able to talk with informed briefers. All briefers, meanwhile, are receiving ADIZ refresher training.
  • Training will be complete on May 7, and the Leesburg hub will be fully staffed after that point.
  • Pilots now and in the future can reach Leesburg directly by calling 866/225-7410.
  • Lockheed has implemented a temporary computer fix for the dropped flight plans and will have a permanent solution in place soon.

"It is frustrating that pilots in the national capital area faced problems with the FSS system," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "The FAA and Lockheed have set a high level of expectation for service, and we want to do everything possible to make certain this occurs."

AOPA's staff continues to maintain a nearly constant communication with the FAA and Lockheed Martin to ensure that the FSS system meets the needs of members.

April 25, 2007

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