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I have been watching the ongoing discussions about privatization of FSS and ATC with growing concern. As many of you already know, if you were to call the technical support staff of most computer manufacturers or software companies today, your call will most likely be answered in some other country. There is a huge movement to "outsource" manufacturing and services to lower cost countries by leveraging the internet and satellite communications.
So I don't think it is too far fetched to think that one day you may dial 1-800-WXBRIEF and someone with an unusual acccent answers your call. This person will be sitting in front of the same displays that the briefers in Macon, GA or Miami, FL have today. However, this person may have never been to the USA, may have no idea of the weather patterns we face and may have never even seen an airplane in his/her life. This same person will be providing you with information critical to your safety and that of your passengers.
I am not intending to debate the issue of outsourcing and all the social and economic ramifications that go along with it. I am, however, trying to point out that services once thought to be unique to the USA (e.g. tax return preparation) are being outsourced to places far away. So outsourcing FSS and other ATC services is not that far fetched. The consequences of an error in messing up a tax return, credit card statement or the installation of a hard drive in a computer is one thing, the consequences of errors in aviation are quite another. I would like to know that the person giving me the information critical to the safety of my flight has the ability to do more than simply read the information off of the terminals. My personal experience dealing with outscourced technical support has indicated that this is the extent of what they can do.
I urge my fellow pilots to consider this issue and realize that privatization means profits for someone. That someone will not be riding with you in your airplane nor sitting with you in the smoking hole in the ground. That someone is focused on making as much money as he/she can. ATC is a service where quality is measured in lives, I am afraid that the scenario I described is not quite that unrealistic and I am very, very concerned.
I welcome your thoughts.
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