Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Roosting Chickens


If you were paying attention -- before I started this blog -- you know that the FAA’s Flight Service Stations (FSS) were contracted out on October 3, 2005. FSSes are an integral part of the National Airspace System. For the average citizen, they’re just a part of the public safety machinery hidden from view. For pilots, especially General Aviation pilots, they were front and center.

FSSes handle many critical safety functions, from providing aviation weather briefings to disseminating information about equipment outages to handling the data for flight plans. They’re like the Swiss Army knife of Air Traffic Control. They do a lot of things and when push comes to shove, they can even save your life.

In the biggest contracting out of Government services to date, Lockheed Martin took over the FSSes and has been “improving” them ever since. Typically, for a while at least, they seemed to be doing a good job. But on May 15, 2006, the first bad news appeared. AVweb reported that the savings that were supposed to accompany the contracting out (because business can do it better) were revised downward -- by half a billion dollars. It was supposed to save you -- the taxpayer -- $2.2 billion. Now the FAA was guessing the savings were going to be $1.7 billion. Over 10 years. If they were off by a half billion the first year, how far off do you think they’ll be for the next 9 years ?

The real cost, however, is just now showing up. Not cost in dollars and cents, but cost in service. And safety. Take a look at these letters to AVweb . Scroll down to “Consolidated FSS QOTW” (Question of the Week.) “...Awful...” “...Plummeted...” “...Shocked...” Not exactly the words you want to hear when it comes to safety.

Just in case somebody wants to tell you that no one saw this coming...

”"I've got a pit in my stomach the size of Texas that this is going to be the largest fiasco any federal agency has ever seen," said Kate Breen, president of the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS).”

That quote was published in AVweb on October 10, 2005. The chickens have come home to roost.

Don Brown
May 1, 2007

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