AOPA Says Outsourced Duties Receive Failing Grade
Give 'em an "F!" That's
the message the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association had for
lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week, during a Congressional hearing
into Lockheed Martin's performance in the two years since it took
over Flight Service Station duties from the FAA... and the agency's
ability to regulate other private companies tasked with providing
vital air safety functions.
As it turns out, at least one member of Congress isn't too keen
on its performance, either.
"We're going to watch this very carefully," said Represenative
James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation
Committee during the October 10 hearing. "We'll hold hearings every
three months if we have to."
Many in the industry look to Lockheed's FSS deal as the
proverbial canary, an early indicator of how other private
companies may handle taking over duties once performed by FAA
In light of the recent awarding of a $1.8 billion contract to
build the first portion of the much-lauded "NextGen" air traffic
control system to White Plains, NY-based ITT
Corp. -- a company that, in addition to being a US
defense contractor, is also the world's largest supplier of
equipment to move and treat water and wastewater -- several
lawmakers are taking the FAA to task for its handling of assigning
the FSS contract.
As ANN has reported, many
pilots have complained of long wait times... dropped calls... and a
lack of knowledge of local conditions on the part of Lockheed FSS
A May survey conducted among pilots by AOPA showed more than
two-thirds of the pilots contacted felt that service from the
automated flight service station (AFSS) network had become worse in
the last 30 days. Some 44 percent said that they were
"dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with the briefings received.
A June survey showed some improvement, but not a lot.
"My members hate this. They're mad as hell at me," said AOPA
President Phil Boyer.
Boyer conceded the organization supported privatization of FSS
-- calling the move "the right thing to do, and the right time to
do it. "This was kindergarten compared to some of the other things
[Lockheed] were working on," he added.
Things looked promising
early on, Boyer said... especially in the aftermath of Hurricane
Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast just over one month before
Lockheed took over FSS duties in October 2005. "We got through
Hurricane Katrina better that we would have under the old system,"
But things took a tumble this year, as Lockheed worked to
transition to more modern gear... and aggressively close old FSS
facilities. AOPA brought up its concerns repeatedly to Lockheed,
the FAA, and the Department of Transportation, with varying levels
"FAA management announced the contract, said, 'well, we're done
with flight service now, we don't have to worry about it any
longer,' and then literally walked away," Boyer said.
"Thank goodness for DUATS," which took up the slack in times
when FSS was overburdened, Boyer added.
A more recent survey by AOPA found 64 percent of respondents
were satisfied with the current level of service from Lockheed's
FSS, according to Boyer... "[b]ut if you were taking an FAA written
test, that would be a failing grade," he adds.
Lockheed's Joseph Cipriano, president of Business Process
Solutions, admits past problems were "unacceptable"... but says the
company continues to learn, and has adjusted its practices and
staffing to deal with future issues, reports The Associated