Flight service stations of the future
Lockheed briefs AOPA on modernization plans"After spending 90 minutes getting an advance look at a 21st century flight service station and asking hard questions, all I can say is, Wow!" said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "On the basis of what Lockheed Martin will deliver under the contract, pilots are going to be much better served and much safer."
Just two days after the FAA announced that Lockheed Martin had won the contract to run the flight service system, company officials were in AOPA´s headquarters to brief the association on what the flight service station of the future is going to look like.
For the first time in history, pilots are going to get a contractual guarantee that a live briefer will answer their phone calls within 20 seconds and acknowledge their radio calls within five seconds. Flight plans will be filed within three minutes. It´s in the contract.
And there will be no user fees.
"Better service and no fees. That´s the bottom line for pilots," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "And as the consumer advocate for general aviation pilots, AOPA fought in the halls of Congress and the FAA to make sure that FSS customers are going to get the service they need."
During the bidding process, AOPA spoke with all six of the organizations that were in competition for the flight service station contract to make sure they understood the needs of pilots, and that they kept their focus on customer service.
The FAA will pay Lockheed $1.9 billion over the course of 10 years, an estimated savings of $2.2 billion over what it would have cost for the FAA to continue providing the service using its existing infrastructure and procedures.
"This is a sound business decision," said Boyer. "The FSS system is antiquated and hemorrhaging money — it costs almost $600 million a year to fund the service while the GA avgas taxes that help pay for it total only $60 million. And as any pilot who has been stuck on hold for 20 minutes trying to get a weather briefing can tell you, the system is overloaded and frequently non-responsive."
The modernized system promises some exciting changes for pilots. You´ll still be able to get a briefing over the telephone, and all of the in-flight radio frequencies will remain the same. But in the future you´ll also be able to get an interactive briefing. You´ll be able to see the same charts and weather maps on your computer as the briefer sees.
If you wish, you´ll be able to file pilot and aircraft profiles in the system, so that the briefer can tailor the information specifically to your experience level.
Lockheed also plans to add e-mail and PDA alerts to the system. If a notam comes out or there is a significant change in the weather after your live or computer-based briefing, the system will send you an electronic alert.