Delays Mounting As Lockheed Converts To FS21
"We finally have their attention,"
the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association reported Wednesday,
regarding mounting problems with the nation's Flight Service
Station network. After weeks of effort by the pilot advocacy group,
the top levels of both the FAA and Lockheed Martin are now engaged
and committed to fixing the significant problems pilots are
experiencing with the new flight service station (FSS) system.
"I spent nearly an hour on the phone with FAA Administrator
Marion Blakey on Sunday (May 13), and then again with her and her
deputy on Monday," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "I have their
pledge that they will do whatever it takes to ensure pilots get the
safety of flight information that they need and deserve.
Boyer added he was pleased the administrator and Deputy
Administrator Bobby Sturgell are now personally engaged in fixing
the FSS problem. He also acknowledged the air traffic controllers
who've helped pick up the slack, by reentering lost flight plan
"That said, I have great difficulty understanding why it has
taken so long for those FAA employees responsible for the Lockheed
Martin contract to address a safety of flight issue," Boyer said.
"As I asked the administrator Sunday, would the FAA allow a radar
outage at a busy hub airport to continue for three weeks with no
As most pilots know, the FAA contracted flight service station
operations to Lockheed Martin last year. The company is now
modernizing the entire system and consolidating all FSSs into three
hubs and 17 satellite facilities.
While AOPA concedes some teething pains could be expected during
such a radical transformation of an antiquated system, the problems
have deteriorated recently from inconvenient to dangerous.
From the pilot's perspective, things really started falling
apart at the end of April, according to AOPA. That's
when Lockheed Martin declared its three hubs operational and began
aggressively consolidating the old FAA stations at the rate of
three a week. And it coincided with the first stretch of good East
Coast flying weather since winter.
But the company had fired up its new computerized FS21 system
knowing that it had some 90 known deficiencies that required
"work-arounds." That meant briefers had to use both the new
Lockheed computer system and the old FAA system to gather all the
required information to brief pilots and to file flight plans.
In the last two weeks, the system crashed three times, with the
longest outage lasting more than an hour. AOPA called two
high-level meetings with Lockheed Martin officials on May 3 and 8
to detail the problems and demand immediate corrective action. The
group has also been in almost daily contact with responsible FAA
officials to make sure they understand the severity of the flight
service station problems.
And while promises were made, the service continued to
Then on Friday, May 11, Boyer went straight to the top and asked
FAA Administrator Blakey to hold Lockheed Martin's "feet to the
fire to not only fix these serious flight service problems, but
also offer immediate remedies to solve the safety of flight
The following Monday, Blakey called in senior Lockheed Martin
mangers. They promised a new set of initiatives to fix the
problems, including new software updates for the FS21 system,
fixing the automated phone switch, offering temporary positions to
retired flight service specialists, "surge" staffing to cover peak
workload periods, more staff training, and better communication to
the pilot community.
"All well and good," said Boyer, "but they're not anywhere close
yet to the service levels that Lockheed Martin has contracted to
provide. And we're not just interested in national averages for
time to answer a call or call abandon rate. If any pilot anywhere
can't get his call answered, or can't get needed information, or
has his flight plan go missing, we're not getting what we're paying
"But I believe that both the FAA and Lockheed Martin understand
this. And I know that the FAA is honestly concerned, and will work
with AOPA and Lockheed to make things right."