Dial 800-WXBRIEF (800-992-7433)
Expedite IFR clearance: 888-766-8267
TIBS direct line: 877-4TIBS-WX (877-484-2799) and the state code
FSS hotline: 888-FLT-SRVC (888-358-7782)
Albuquerque, New Mexico: 505-243-7831
Fort Worth, Texas: 817-697-6110
Miami, Florida: 305-233-2600
Prescott, Arizona: 928-583-6126
"Please wait while I connect you with a flight briefer." Ten measured words that separate pilots and flight service specialists at 800-WX-BRIEF.
Ten words, which at times have turned a simple briefing into a stressful and agonizing experience; calls that have culminated in a long wait or worse, that have been dropped after enduring hold times of 10 minutes or longer, and flight plans that have vanished into the flight service station (FSS) abyss. If you've had similar FSS experiences, you are understandably turned-off by the new system, even angry at it. Don't give up on it just yet, slowly but surely the bugs are being worked out. AOPA is holding the FAA's and Lockheed Martin's feet to the fire, making them accountable for quality and timely service. Most recently, AOPA President Phil Boyer testified at a congressional hearing on the FSS situation, saying, "My members hate this. They're mad as hell at me." Nevertheless, Boyer said that contracting out flight service was "the right thing to do, and the right time to do it."
As an active pilot, you're probably familiar with the automated flight service station (AFSS) system transition since the FAA outsourced that operation to Lockheed Martin on October 1, 2005. Flashback to September 1997, when the FAA consolidated the last four of 317 flight service stations into 61 automated FSSs—a process that took them a whopping 17 years to complete. Now fast-forward to Lockheed Martin's aggressive plan to further modernize and consolidate the FSS system over a short two-year period. FS21—aka Flight Service for the 21st Century—collapses the remaining 61 FSSs into 17 AFSSs connected to three hub stations in Fort Worth, Texas; Leesburg, Virginia; and Prescott, Arizona. The facilities share a common database so every briefer has access to all information across the country.
There's no denying it, FS21 has had its problems. Some of these were to be expected, such as technical hiccups and growing pains not uncommon for system changes of this magnitude. But this spring, Lockheed pumped up its aggressive consolidation schedule, causing a not yet fully capable system to crash and almost burn when it headed into a busy flying season. The overburdened system just emerging from its infancy now limped along, and dissatisfaction with briefings was reached quickly when excessive delays and major system problems reared their ugly heads—causing bad vibes for pilots and briefers alike. AOPA felt the crunch immediately and took swift action. Working directly with the FAA and Lockheed Martin, the association began to determine FSS service gaps that affected quality and timely briefings. See a full disclosure of the concerns that have plagued the system at AOPA Online. The top three issues? Long telephone-hold times, dropped calls, and lost flight plans.
AOPA has been in close contact with the FAA and Lockheed Martin on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis to monitor and resolve these problems and to ensure a well-managed and acceptable FSS system emerges.
We've bound in to this magazine an AFSS tips card to help you navigate the FS21 telephone system. Perforated for a chart- or flight-planning ring binder, it lists the dedicated direct-dial numbers for IFR clearance delivery and fast-file flight planning, including a lookup of two-letter state codes for your local area briefer.
For example, to expedite your IFR clearance, dial the new dedicated FS21 IFR clearance delivery telephone number, 888-766-8267, when departing IFR from a nontowered airport that does not have a remote communication frequency. And, for any problems with the AFSS system, call the FSS complaint hotline immediately at 888-358-7782.
Once the glitches are fixed and the wrinkles ironed out, expect some exciting changes on the horizon, such as:
Lockheed Martin says it is committed to making FS21 a success. It has recently beefed up staff training, including increased emphasis on "local knowledge" so that FSS specialists are familiar with specific geographic areas so you can access a briefer with knowledge of your local area. Simply call 800-WXBRIEF, press "1", and dial the two-letter state code, and you'll be connected to your local specialist.
E-mail the author at [email protected].