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Well, as announced the other day, the FAA Awarded the contract for FSS services to Lockheed-Martin (aka LockMart in Boeing vernacular). The plan calls for the FAA to still oversee and quality assure the services rendered, but it also contains a timeline that shows we are going to go from the current 58 FSS's down to 20. While many of the features and talk sound good, including things like PDA and email alerts if significant weather changes occur post-briefing, one has to wonder about how well the knowledge of the local area patterns now more closely studied with the ability of a briefer having more intimate knowledge in a smaller geographic zone can readily transfer (long term) into this new service paradigm (sorry about that cliche term).
Don't get me wrong, the feature promises and plan "sound" great... but I've learned to expect far less ROI than what this seems to offer. I'd be interested in the concerns/opions of others. I'm a low-time pilot (around 200 hours), but I've been around aviation as a pilot since 1985. Call me "old fashioned", but I certainly didn't think the current FSS model was "broken".
More information about this can be read on the AOPA Website (among many others I'm sure) at the following URL : AOPA Online - Flight Service Stations of the Future
Canada privatized control towers, FSSs, nav services, etc. quite a few years ago: Such services are now provided by a company called Nav Canada. This happened before I started flying, so unfortunately I don't remember the old way, but the system seems to work, so clearly privatization is not the end of the world.
Similarly, Nav Canada has been undergoing a consolidation of FSSs for quite some time. They've created what they call Flight Information Centres (FICs) that take over a bunch of the functions of what the FSSs used to do. (See blurb here.)
So, for example, Calgary Springbank (the small airport I fly out of, 13NM west of Calgary International) apparently once had a FSS, but now it's just served by calling the Edmonton FIC either on the radio or on the phone. However, the airport does have a tower (run by Nav Canada) as well as other local folks that still do weather observation, etc. Again, as I wasn't around for the old way, I can't say if this is noticeably worse, but it seems to work.
I'm sure there were growing pains during the implementation though. For example, despite Nav Canada's assertion that they were going to pains to preserve local weather knowledge, there were complaints to this effect. See, for example, the paragraph begining with "The quality of weather information and availability has deteriorated significantly as a result of the closing of FSSs..." about half way down this web page. The recommendation arising from that complaint was that "NAV CANADA publish Canadian weather information, notices to airmen (NOTAMS) and provide flight planning capability on the Internet." They have since done all of that.
Anyway, good luck to y'all down there.
The effort down here is to allow a private company provide the service, but the responsibility for maintaining quality and supervision remains with the FAA here. Hence, this is only a partial privatization... more like a sub-contractor arrangement with the government remaining prime contractor. We have quite a few resources for flight planning, and even weather briefing here, so the likelihood of some of the problems that ocurred when Canada was switching over are minimized in that regard. The real problem, as I see it, is that there will be a "brain drain" eventually of knowledge of the geographic induced weather anomalies that the FSS folks right now are better able to relate to area fliers. Other than that, I think the rest of the changes all sound very positive.
I guess time will tell. I do wonder how the FSS personnel will feel about it when they suddenly become Lockheed/Martin employees. They may be getting the short end of the stick on that deal if history is any teacher.
Date: 2/4/2005 5:34:06 PM
... The effort down here is to allow a private company provide the service, but the responsibility for maintaining quality and supervision remains with the FAA here. ...
Yeah, I don't think that's much different than what happened here. I believe Transport Canada (the federal government department responsible for civil aviation) has Nav Canada on a pretty tight leash. The government giveth, and the government can take away.
My only complaint about Nav Canada is that they spent over $200-$300 US collecting $25 Canadian from me due to a mis-understanding on my part. Short version is that we took an IFR flight to Montreal. We flew up on August 29th and returned on September 3rd or thereabouts. I paid the $25 ATC fee. And then I started getting collection notices with no explanation. And then phone calls. Over and over, I told them that I'd paid the fee. Over and over, the customer service reps said, OK, sorry to bother you. Finally, after several months of this, I got a hold of a supervisor, relaid the facts and dates, and discovered that the fee is a quarterly fee, and - guess what? - the flight up was in the second quarter and the flight back was in the third quarter. Not that I minded too much paying the fee (heck, it's only 17 bucks to me), but why couldn't someone explain what happened?
Also, I don't mind paying the fee to Canada. And I wouldn't mind Canadians paying for ATC services in the US. However, I do mind that Canadians have to pay a fee for ATC services in Canada, and I will darn well mind paying for services in the US. If US taxes are outrageous, Canadian taxes are worse from what I hear (and you guys think you live in a free country. Hah!).
Date: 2/8/2005 12:15:06 AM
... why couldn't someone explain what happened? ...
Man, that collection process sounded like a pain. But the bureaucratic mentality (which flourishes in banks, government agencies, etc.), never seems to lend itself to (a) explaining things to clients/users in a simple, direct way or (b) going the extra mile to try to resolve somebody's concern. Sigh.
Date: 2/8/2005 12:15:06 AM
... I don't mind paying the fee to Canada. And I wouldn't mind Canadians paying for ATC services in the US. However, I do mind that Canadians have to pay a fee for ATC services in Canada, and I will darn well mind paying for services in the US. ...
Hmm, unfortunatley Canadians do pay a Nav Canada fee for service in Canada, but for light aircraft it's only CAD71 per year (plus a CAD1 adjustment to make up for Nav Canada's loss last year, if I read this correctly), so that's probably a pretty small portion of the aircraft's overall operating costs. (Note that there are no movement-based charges for light aircraftâ€"under 3 tonnesâ€"just the annual charge for Canadian aircraft or a quarterly charge for foreign aircraft.)
Date: 2/8/2005 12:15:06 AM
... If US taxes are outrageous, Canadian taxes are worse from what I hear (and you guys think you live in a free country. Hah!).
Yeah, we like to complain about our tax load, but Canadians don't want to give up any of the pork programs that the taxes pay for. Seriously, though, comparing cost of living is a lot harder than just examining federal tax rates. I suspect many places in Canada are less expensive to live in than comparable places in the US, when you take into account all taxes (federal, state/province, municipal, excise taxes, etc.), costs for health insurance etc., local real estate conditions, etc. You have to do these comparisons on a city-pair basis. Frankly, I don't think I could afford my current lifestyle (which includes a nice new condo in a quiet neighborhood by the river right downtown, a 12-minute walk from my office) in any major US city. But our weather sure sucks!
I've heard that flying in England can be highly taxing as well. Though I have no direct information on it. I've heard many a rumor regarding the heavy use taxes England implements on everything from license renewal to airport and airspace use taxes and more.
Anyone got any solid info on that? I'm curious how things stack up USA vs. Canada vs. England on this front... not that we can do very much about it.
I don't have any quotable data, but from from talking to others here's my impression of the relative costs of aviation in the three countries:
Cheapest-------------------------Most Dear (as the Brits would say)
I think a big part of it is very high fuel costs and fuel taxes in the UK.
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