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GA having its say on the future of flight serviceGA having its say on the future of flight service

The human element in flight service is far too important to discard for the foreseeable future, AOPA said in a formal response to the FAA’s request for input before the next round of the program’s modernization.

General aviation pilots value flight service briefers.

Feedback gathered through surveys of general aviation pilots lead to the conclusion that for now, “it is unacceptable to remove a human specialist and to completely automate the briefing system,” wrote AOPA Vice President of Government Affairs Melissa Rudinger, in comments responding to a draft screening information request (SIR) for the Future Flight Services Program.

The SIR process is underway as the FAA prepares to seek competitive bids for a new flight service contract from private sector vendors. The FAA privatized flight service in 2005. A recent Department of Transportation Inspector General’s report on the flight service program’s performance since being privatized also urged continued efforts to maintain high quality by regularly soliciting input from users. The IG report expressed skepticism about the FAA’s plan to phase out human briefers.

The final SIR will be issued in 2017 and will be the basis for contract bids.

AOPA noted in the comments filed Dec. 13 that the best venue for continuing to collaborate with the FAA on program refinement—as outlined in a memorandum of agreement implemented last June—is for the Flight Service National Airspace System (NAS) Efficient Streamlined Services (FSNESS) Committee, on which AOPA serves, to be made formally responsible for vetting future service changes.

For example, the FAA may not consider a particular technology, but a vendor may point out that its solution would be more efficient if requirements were revised, Rudinger said.

AOPA listed reasons why a noted decline in pilots’ use of telephone briefing services in light of the availability of digital alternatives is a misleading measure of the need for human briefers.

For example, many pilots still call flight service to ensure that they have not overlooked the increasing number of notices to airmen applicable even to short flights, and they will continue to rely on that safety net until major improvements have been made to the notam system, AOPA said.

At some general aviation airports, pilots may lack internet access, and must call for their preflight briefings or to file a flight plan. “Access to the National Airspace System could be obstructed for many General Aviation pilots should the telephone service be removed,” AOPA wrote.

Pointing to research indicating that many pilots “call to ask questions about what the weather is predicted to do,” AOPA added that “aviators rely on these trained experts’ insight to make an informed decision. Providing this wisdom is something a robot could not do.”

AOPA also strongly opposed the establishment of any fees for services connected to aviation safety, noting that “language the FAA uses in multiple supporting documents of the Draft SIR is vague and leaves room for the charging of fees for current or future services provided to pilots.”

The FAA should clarify the “currently ambiguous” language and avoid setting a “dangerous precedent” that could discourage pilots from obtaining safety-critical information, Rudinger said.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, FAA Information and Services, Technology

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