Thursday, March 12, 2009


So how many AFSS briefers are there? ....oops...

Yesterday we posted about our estimate on how many specialists are left in the AFSS system, and our confidence in the number; 675, give or take. After further review (so they say) we must retract that number. We are confident in the information we have, but quickly came to understand there was information we lacked. As such we now know that number is low, and should be at least 710. We apologize for ‘jumping the gun’ on our findings as will try to ascertain a more accurate number.

The rest of our opinion stands, however; the flying public is not getting what they bargained for in this contract.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


So how many AFSS briefers are there?

675. Give or take a few.

This does not include specialists who may be in initial training or on extended medical leave.

Lockheed Martin has treated the number of specialists they have on hand almost like a closely guarded secret. But there are a variety of ways to find out and we used one of them. While we are open to the possibility of an error in information we are fairly confident of our conclusion and would take this number with only a small grain of salt.

Let’s say that we’re fairly accurate here. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When Lockheed Martin first won the contract it was for 1000 briefers. Since this was higher than the Government’s in-house bid of 940, then-AOPA President Boyle used it as a major reason in favor of the LM award.

But now instead of being 60 specialists below the original Lockheed bid, Flight Service is populated at 325 below anticipated staffing.

Oh. Remember also that when the contract was awarded there were approximately 2200 specialists on staff.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Closures and rumors of closures.

Lockheed Martin is going to close some Flight Service Stations. During a telephone conference to facility managers yesterday, it was announced that five stations will close their doors on February 1st, 2009: Denver, Oakland, San Diego, Albuquerque and Macon. We all remember that the promised number of stations in the Lockheed Martin contracted Flight Service was 20. Today it is 18, and on next February 2nd it will be 13.

It was also announced that Flight Service is ‘over-staffed.’ Lockheed Martin will not say how many specialists there are. They will not say how many they want. Why either of these numbers should remain a secret is unexplained. But since a buy-out was announced a couple months ago, over 140 have left the ranks. We have no hard-and fast data, but we suspect that the current number of specialists is below 1000, likely closer to 900, and that is too many. Recall that in 2005, then-AOPA President Phil Boyer championed the LM contract over the internal government bid because one significant difference was that LM offered 1000 controllers, and the government bid offered ‘only’ 940. Snookered yet again, Mr. Boyer.

Because of this ‘overstaffing,’ after the above facilities are closed there will be a RIF should the unnamed staffing number not be reached.

One last item…it seems that specialists may have not been told the whole story today. Since there are a number of entities with an interest in this contract, a number of telephone conferences were held. We have it from a source that previously proved trustworthy that this is not the last of the planned closures. While details may vary, the general upshot is this…on October 1st of 2009, five of the remaining 13 facilities will close. By February of 2010, only 5 facilities will remain open…the three hubs (D.C., Forth Worth, and Prescott), Miami, and Honolulu. We’re hoping for more confirmation, but have little reason to doubt the basics of this.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

When one receives a letter, it’s always politest to respond. We were fortunate to receive an e-mail from one we’ll call ‘Freebird.’ The letter read as follows:

Are you ever going to revive Flight Service Sigmet? Do you need
outside help. Did you retire from LM? I always thought your blog was
very good, but it is a drag that it is inactive. I also am a flight
service controller, so I always could really relate to it. Would you
like a guest blog, or have you just decided to stop?

Fair questions, and we’re gratified that people still visit this site hoping to find some relevant information. And we always welcome outside commentary, experiences and thoughts through our e-mail. But the primary purpose of Flight Service Sigmet was to alert pilots, and the public in general, to what awaited them in the contracting out of Flight Service. Since pilots are now living with the contract, our approach became res ipsa loquitur.

But perhaps there is room for additional commentary. Pilots may be under the impression that Flight Service is now ‘stabilized’ in its present form. This would be inaccurate. Lord knows that pilots have been disappointed with LM AFSS to a degree not seen during the FAA days. From our view, between broken promises of the past, and more broken promises to come, it’s not going to get any better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Better late than . . . whatever . . .

There’s been more talk on Capital Hill about what’s happening with what used to be ‘Flight Service.’ Recent hearings at the House aviation subcommittee have resulted in the FAA being asked to submit a progress report “every 90 days to ensure that the FS21 [flight service twenty-first century] service provided by Lockheed Martin is equal to or better than the old FAA-operated system.”

In his letter to Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, Costello said that the report should “include the steps that Lockheed Martin is taking to correct the prominent deficiencies, as a result of flight service station (FSS) consolidation, in providing adequate local knowledge for every pilot’s intended route of flight.”

We couldn’t help but laugh when we read that. OASIS was a Flight Service technology that controllers could actually use to great effect in serving pilots. It took years to get it to a reliable, usable version and was in about a dozen stations before the roll-out was halted. FS21 is a cobbled mish-mash, thrown together in an effort to meet an artificial deadline. To think that such an amalgam of dissimilar parts could be equal to or better than even the outdated, widely used (but time-tested) Model 1 is rather a joke.

While the attention on Capital Hill is welcome, we are inclined to think that Congress will be equally effective in its oversight role as FS21 is in its own sphere. We’ve heard through the grapevine that some in the LM executive ranks are “embarrassed” by the system they’ve foisted on controllers and the flying public. The FAA, on the other hand continues whistling past the graveyard, confident in the wreckage they continue to manage and spin. And Congress? They’ll be embarrassed to the extent that they ever really get a clue.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Farewell Follies

There’s something to look at in the annual speech by FAA Administrator. Two quotes just don’t seem to mesh very well. First, there’s the self pat on the back:

“If you want to be a first-rate organization, you’ve got to operate like one. From the creation of the ATO back in 2004 to the competitive outsourcing of automated flight service stations, we’ve shown that this organization is capable of handling change and big-ticket items. [emphasis added]”

It’s difficult to square this with an earlier statement in the same speech:

“With all of that said, the focus, and success, of the Flight Plan has been its link to the organizational success increase — the OSI. The big question, as always, are we going to make it? This year, going into the final weeks, I can’t predict whether or not we’ll hit 90 percent of our goals and receive the full payout. As of today, we know we have three red targets that will stay red for the remainder of the year. Those are the commercial fatal accident rate, the average daily airport capacity at the big seven metro airports, and our customer satisfaction rating. That last one, which comes from the 2007 commercial pilots survey, was an unexpected reversal. We're still analyzing the specific comments submitted by the pilots, but they seem to be concerned about three things: the response they’ve been getting from Flight Service Stations during the transition, the perennial issue of standardization among FSDOs, and the potential for user fees. [emphasis added]”

The OSI (organizational success increase) is an annual ‘bonus’ of increased base pay given to all FAA employees if the agency meets it’s preset goals for the fiscal year. Three items are in ‘red,’ one of which is customer satisfaction, brought about, in part, by the poor performance of the contracted flight service stations.

So, the FAA has shown that it is “first rate” by providing bad service via contracting. This could result in an interesting justice…FAA employees my not get their full pay increase because of how badly the contract was handled. For an organization trying to paint itself as ‘successful’ they obviously didn’t know how one of their key components functioned, thus couldn’t tell if they were letting a properly written contract. They weren’t, of course, and the result is pilot dissatisfaction that might finally hit FAA employees in the pocketbook.

Flight Service was always the FAA’s ‘front line’ air traffic function, the agency’s daily ambassadors to the users, if you will. Blakey may claim an “unexpected reversal” in pilot satisfactions, but the AFSS Controllers, who know pilots and their needs best, said from the get-go what would happen.

Monday, September 03, 2007


Bad memories

John Carr left the FAA after losing his bid to keeping his job as NATCA president. Taking his bat and ball and going home? Did he forget how to actually control traffic while acting as President and couldn’t face the scope again? Hard to say…

But his bluster continues on his blog and there seems to be no change to the self-serving, self-delusional reading of his tenure as NATCA president. In this post he attempts to remind people of “…the lengths to which NATCA went to try and get the Flight Service folks transferred into Centers, Towers and TRACONS.”

As Flight Service controllers who lived through the A-76 outsourcing to Lockheed Martin, this caused us to laugh out loud. John Carr and NATCA did nothing of substance to assist us in 2004-2005, or anytime since. Oh, there may have been some pretty statements and a few crocodile tears but there was never anything approaching “lengths” to come to the aid of his AFSS controlling brethren.

Really, though, NATCA has long looked at Flight Service in the same manner the FAA did…second class controllers (at best), red-headed step-child, etc. etc. It used to be common for FSS controllers to ‘cross options’ and move into a tower or even center. But NATCA pushed for a job bid form that punishes FSS controllers by deducting ‘bid points’ for each year they did not work in a tower or center. This effectively removed many previously eligible FSS controllers from consideration for tower and center positions.

Then there was the ‘seniority rule’ that NATCA adopted a few conventions ago. Seniority used to be based on ‘2152’ time, which included FSS controllers. But NATCA changed that, sending multi-decade controllers to the bottom of the seniority list at towers and centers.

The only “lengths” Mr. Carr goes to involves spin of the most extreme sort.

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