AVmail: Jul. 23, 2007
FSS vs. DUATS
Too many problems with this one (Question of the Week, Jul. 12). Since DUAT/DUATS are due to be eliminated, with Lockheed-Martin (LM) taking over those functions, asking if FSS should be shut down in favor of DUATS really makes no sense. Any such service provided by LM would be a highly questionable venture in light of their current performance.
Unlike most opinion polls, you did a good job of providing a variety of responses but you still missed the complexity of the problem and all the services other than weather briefing and flight plan filing that that FSS provides. Who do you call to open a VFR flight plan after take off? And who would provide Flight Watch? I agree that weather briefings and flight-plan filing could be self-service (that's what I do), but if the staff is already there for Flight Watch as well as opening and closing flight plans, you really aren't saving money to discontinue the services you suggest. Some folks would rather talk to a live person who can translate and condense the abundance of information that is delivered in less-than-user-friendly formats.
I work for the FAA at the Kenai AFSS in Alaska. It would have been nice if in your poll you would have specified Lockheed-Martin FSSs. The way I read your poll you have included those of us who are still employed by the FAA working at the FSS in Alaska -- still maintaining call-wait-time averages of less than 10 seconds, and still receiving thank you's from the pilots who use our services.
Mary Ellen Cunningham
In response to Terry Blumenthal's comment on the state of the FSS system (AVmail, Jun. 25), it sure does show that he doesn't use the system much. Since October 3, 2005, the FSS has been a private company competing for your business. A little-known, frequent government contractor called Lockheed-Martin continues to try to make it work. With employees queuing up to put in their two-weeks notice, and only newbie, full of P&V students coming on board, I don't see it getting any better. It takes years to season a briefing specialist with the anomalies of local terrain and local flyers.
I won't go into the "smoke and mirrors" of the selection process, that is another story. I will comment on what I was told and have observed. I've been told the computer systems they use are not state-of-the art like Phil Boyer was exposed to, but a refit of an older airline-dispatch configuration. Sure, new flat-screen monitors, the fastest processors, etc. but there must be a reason the specialists are calling it FS-64 (Commodore?) Does it do the job? Not from what some of the folks at the Hubs are saying. Frequent crashes, two and three backup systems to supplement the data required to complete a full, legal, pilot weather briefing. Pages of workarounds and back-door solutions. Non-compatibility with ARTCC HOST computers (perhaps why so many flight plans are not getting to the ATCTs).
I can go on but it is all old news now. I will say, however, Lockheed-Martin FSS specialists can (and have) been fired for poor performance. It is an "at will" position. No union (for now). The FAA pours fuel on the flames by performing daily "spot" checks on the briefings. A pilot weather brief can be failed in the eyes of the "secret shopper" evaluator if it turns out that the specialist recorded Joe Pilot in the name data of the flight plan form instead of Joe D. Pilot.
As much as I despise this hostile, underhanded takeover by Lockheed-Martin, I feel for the former FAA FSS specialists. No longer are they able to provide quality, tailored, pilot weather and flight planning services the pilot deserves as they are being forced to literally cross all their 'T's and dot their 'I's.
Now Congress is getting involved, stating in the Revitalization Act that the FAA is to provide all these new quality checks and safeguards. If the FAA reads the contract they awarded Lockheed-Martin, they will see they are already there. It's failing folks. As for the other options (Towers, Approach Control, etc.), stay tuned. Grant Thorton, Inc., has been visiting some ATCTs ... that is how it all started with FSS. They were "just doing a study."
Former FSS Briefer
For what it is worth, I have had no problem with Flight Service. Each time I have called I have gotten through. I have been able to open and close IFR flight plans easily, and have gotten the information I have requested while on the phone. I fly about 175 hours a year. Just for another perspective.
You forgot one option: Cancel Lock-Mart's contract and return the FSS to the FAA. It may not have been perfect, but it was much better than what we have now, or are likely to get in the future.
Regarding the article on the Ohio sales tax issue (AVwebFlash, Jul. 15), be aware that both Massachusetts and Connecticut exempt aircraft and aircraft parts from state sales taxes.
No need to travel to New Hampshire, which also boasts among the highest property taxes in the nation.
Losing Jobs To India
I was talking to an engineer a few weeks ago -- they design the fuel system for an airliner -- and he said that they have been directed to use 16 engineers located in India to the maximum extent possible. That even includes training them. He said they were told that there was about a pool of 400 to 500 engineers that could be used for the design of aerospace parts and systems and that they work for way less than a U.S. engineer. This is something that does not get much press but I thing is going to really hurt our industry down the road. A job shop firm located in Dallas is using and training Indian engineers. There are three airframe companies in a 10-mile radius and they can't get people? Oh, wait a minute ... they can't get someone for 30 to 40 percent less money.
Michael K. Baker
Just a thought. I'm old and maybe cranky, but Congress has a dismal record of oversight. The FAA directors have way too little knowledge of general aviation. Politics and greed have won the day over good sense. The FAA seems to have lost its ability to plan and control. We have 'till 2012 to get it together. I'll not be holding my breath.
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