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Congress demands improvement on flight service

Warren D. Morningstar

It’s sort of like the teacher sending a weekly report card until your grades improve. The chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), has asked the Department of Transportation to submit a progress report “every 90 days to ensure that the FS21 [flight service twenty-first century] service provided by Lockheed Martin is equal to or better than the old FAA-operated system.”

In his letter to Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, Costello said that the report should “include the steps that Lockheed Martin is taking to correct the prominent deficiencies, as a result of flight service station (FSS) consolidation, in providing adequate local knowledge for every pilot’s intended route of flight.”

AOPA had testified to those deficiencies and more during a hearing before Costello’s committee on Oct. 10, and recommended that Congress ask for quarterly progress reports. But Costello was well aware of FSS problems long before that, as AOPA had been keeping him and his staff well informed.

In fact, Costello opened the hearing citing the saga of one pilot who inadvertently flew into a presidential temporary flight restriction (TFR) because a flight service briefer had failed to tell him about it.

AOPA has confirmed through the FAA that at least one other pilot was caught the same way. In one case, the briefer told the pilot that there were no TFRs along his route of flight. In the other case, the briefer mentioned the TFR, but told the pilot it was “for tomorrow.” It wasn’t. And one intercepted pilot just didn’t ask for the TFR information.

So how can you be sure you won’t find an F-16 on your wing tip on your next flight? Make sure you get a quality briefing. AOPA has just published a handy reference card with tips on how to best use the new FS21 system, and how to help the briefer help you. You’ll find the pull-out card in the November issues of AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training magazines.

Tell the briefer you’re going from “foxtrot-delta-kilo to foxtrot-romeo-golf,” rather than “Frederick to Republic.,” Use the identifiers, rather than the names, for your navaids and waypoints along the route of flight as well.

Back up your briefing with other sources of information, such as the AOPA Real-Time Flight Planner.If you see a TFR the briefer didn’t mention, ask about it.

Finally, report any problems you have with flight service to the FAA through 888/FLT-SRVC (888/358-7782). The FAA has the responsibility to make sure that the new FSS system is, in fact, ,“equal to or better than,” the old one.

October 18, 2007

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