FSS Outsourcing Choice Due This Week

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Workers at 58 Flight Service Stations in the continental U.S. should find out this week who will run their operation in the future. The FAA will choose from five contenders who bid on the outsourcing contract. "No matter who wins, there will be changes," AOPA said last week, in a news release. "Many automated flight service stations may be consolidated, for example. And walk-in briefings will likely become a thing of the past." AOPA has been supportive of the change, however, saying the current system is too costly, and the new system will increase efficiency without imposing user fees. The FAA wants the winner to cut costs by at least 22 percent from the current $502 million (depending on how you count it) annual tab. The National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS), the union representing FSS workers, has opposed the process, saying figures are misrepresented and the move amounts to selling off the system to the lowest bidder, with inadequate provisions to ensure safety and security. NAATS has long disputed the FAA's contention that each contact with a pilot costs $25. "Flight service cost an average of $12 per contact until you factor in the cost of all the technical and administrative support costs. These support personnel are not included in any privatization or job elimination study," says NAATS. As many as 2,000 FSS jobs will be lost this year, the union says. At the AOPA Expo in November 2003, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said the outsourcing process would not result in reduced services to pilots. "We want to provide enhanced services ... not just efficient service," Blakey said. Bidders for the contract include the agency's own employees in partnership with Harris Corp., Computer Sciences Corp., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. After the FAA decides, there is an appeal period of several weeks before the selection is final. The FSSs will still be under government control, and the FAA remains responsible for their operation.