Even with advanced technologies today, there’s still no substitute for the human touch.
General aviation pilots can access a lot of information electronically, but they contact flight service to talk with an expert who can help them in the decision-making process. AOPA emphasized the importance of this service to GA pilots at a Flight Services Safety Summit hosted by the FAA and Lockheed Martin May 13.
The summit, entitled “Climb to and Maintain the Extraordinary,” was the first of its kind and focused on building upon flight service's current level of safety and customer service. AOPA attended the event, along with representatives from the FAA's Alaska flight service stations (FSS) and Lockheed Martin, which operates the flight service system, FS-21, in the lower 49 states and Guam.
“General aviation pilots are the primary users of FSS, and their feedback has been important during the transition to modernize flight service over the past five years,” said AOPA Senior Director of Airspace and Modernization Heidi Williams, who presented a pilot’s perspective on FSS customer service and how the system has evolved. “AOPA continues to look for opportunities to provide input to both the FAA and Lockheed Martin to enhance the level of service and safety culture that exists with FSS today.” Williams also talked about opportunities for growth as the air transportation system transitions into the modernized NextGen environment.
AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Melissa Rudinger spoke on the importance and history of flight service; andthe FAA heard first-handaccounts from pilots, includingAOPA staff members Tom Zecha, Tom Kramer, and Sarah Dooley, who shared their personal experiences as pilots and flight instructors who use flight service, on the GA Pilot Forum. AOPA reminded the group that flight service continues to be a critical service to GA and that regardless of NextGen modernization and technology, having a human in the loop cannot be replaced.
FAA staff at the event included Hank Krakowski, chief operating officer of the agency’s Air Traffic Organization, who talked about other successful safety initiatives: the Runway Safety Call to Action, which defined simple, low-cost recommendations that the FAA implemented and has led to reducing serious runway incidents by 70 percent; and the collaboration between industry and the FAA after the Hudson River midair crash that helped mitigate risk and enhance the safety culture by standardizing procedures. Nancy Kalinowski, vice president of system operations at the organization, and Dennis Roberts, director of flight service operations, also spoke and shared their vision for what it will take to climb to and maintain an environment where flight service customer service and safety rise to the “extraordinary” level.
Christopher Hart, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, addressed the group on areas ofparticular interest to the NTSB. Included were search-and-rescue coordination, provision of timely weather and aeronautical information, advances and challenges of glass cockpits for GA pilots, and pilot professionalism.
In his summation, Roberts noted, “We in flight services can never forget the value and impact we can and do have on general aviation safety. It doesn't matter if we are sitting in an FAA-operated FSS in Barrow, Alaska, or a Lockheed Martin facility in Prescott, Arizona, none of us should ever treat our jobs like we are working in a computer call center. The information we provide to users of the National Airspace System can lead to ‘life or death decisions’ by pilots. For this reason, we shouldn't settle for just providing ‘normal services.’ We must always strive to provide 'extraordinary services' to our customers. Input we received today helps us define some of the more specific needs of pilots and improve how we deliver the services they desire. We are very appreciative of AOPA for their help in bringing this information to the table for us.”