FAA Flight Service reached the Century Mark
When one talks about the FAA and flight service, the prominent image that comes to mind is Air Traffic Controllers in towers, centers and TRACONs. Their work is most visible to the general public. Another critical safety function is performed by the Flight Service Stations (FSS). The below articles relate 100 year history of FSSs.
This term began with a broader mission, but now those who work in these facilities communicate “directly with pilots for pilot briefings, flight plans, inflight advisory services, search and rescue initiation, aircraft emergencies, and Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs).” The primary users of the FSS’ information are the GA pilots.
The history of this organization has been controversial. FSSs have been privatized and automated. The stakeholders opposed both, but as the last article below indicates, the changes have been begrudgingly accepted.
August 20th marked 100 years since the creation of the Flight Service system, which would eventually become the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that we know today. In August 1920, just 17 years after the Wright brothers first took to the skies, Flight Service stations started popping up all over the US. But what did they do? And how did we go from a few stations to the modern-day FAA? 
Flight Service stations, otherwise known as air mail radio stations, were located across the US on mail routes. Their purpose was to provide air mail pilots with updates about incoming weather fronts and other aeronautical information. Pilots could radio the stations directly from the air or could call in advance using a standard telephone.
The first aircraft inspection
In the build-up to the second world war, several federal laws were passed to increase safety and security in the aviation industry. There was the Air Commerce Act of 1926, followed by the 1934 formation of the Bureau of Air Commerce. Both laws helped ensure aircraft and pilots were certified.
Eventually, Flight Service stations became mandatory at all airports under the name of Air Traffic Control towers. And they did so much more than pass over weather reports. The FAA used the towers to communicate and to track aircraft.
Another aspect of the Bureau of Air Commerce was to inspect planes. The Bureau made its first official aircraft inspection on December 7th, 1926, when it examined a Stinson Detroiter before it left for Canadian Air Express. Then in 1938, President Roosevelt signed the Civil Aeronautics Act, which established the official Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA).
The CAA becomes the FAA
During the second world war, very little changed for Flight Service stations and commercial aviation. The start of the war signaled an increase in the number of planes, and a considerable effort went into training new staff. The industry started to expand in support of the war effort.
Then, in 1958, a fatal crash over the Grand Canyon involving a United Airlines DC-7 and a Trans World Airlines Super Constellation resulted inthe death of all 128 people onboard. So, on August 23rd, the Federal Aviation Act was signed. This transferred the power from the previous civil authority to the new federal one. The FAA was born.
A shaky start
The agency initially had no headquarters. It had bases spread out across old, disused war buildings as well as the original Flight Service stations. Finally, a new, central office was set up at 800 Independence Avenue, Washington. However, on the day the agency planned to move and start transforming the industry, they heard the news: President Kennedy had been assassinated.
After a less than ideal start, the newly formed FAA went from strength to strength. The agency introduced new regulations to avoid mid-air crashes, deregulated the industry for new airlines, performed checks on new technology, and, in July 1970, it established the Air Traffic Control Systems Command Center. This integrated multiple services into one central hub, minimizing communication issues and allowing for greater collaboration for the benefit of pilots and airlines.
That’s not to say there weren’t issues. Labor strikes in the early 1970s lead to a huge walkout. This, in turn, led to the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS) union representing all Flight Service specialists. There were many other issues such as hijackings, growing environmental concerns, noise pollution, and stowaways, but the most significant event which shaped the FAA happened on September 11th, 2001.
The modern FAA
With the terror attack on the World Trade Centre, the FAA changed overnight. It grounded all aircraft in the US for the first time in history and used its resources to help identify the hijackers. Its systems were able to pass information to the FBI within one day. As a result, in February 2002, the TSA officially became responsible for security instead of the FAA.
Since then, the FAA has continued to regulate, control, manage and check the safety of aircraft, airports, airlines, and aviation technology. It continues to have a considerable impact on the aviation industry and will continue to do so. Thanks to the efforts of the FAA, fatal accidents now only occur 0.18 times per 100,000 departures.
Journalist – Emily has had a passion for writing since she was in her teens, graduating with a bachelors in English Literature before going on to specialize in travel journalism. Her appetite to investigate the future of aviation and close relationship with suppliers such as Boeing makes her a powerful asset to the Simple Flying Team. Based in Montpellier, France.
The United States’ civil aviation governing body, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), on Thursday celebrated 100 years of Flight Service, according to a statement published on the FAA’s website. Flight Service works with pilots to provide briefings, flight plans, inflight advisory services, search and rescue, aircraft emergencies and Notices to Airmen.
Per the FAA’s website, the purpose of Flight Service is to provide world-class service and value to users of the National Airspace System (NAS), including new entrants; leverage advanced technologies to safely and efficiently deliver flight services in the contiguous United States (CONUS), Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Alaska; and support the ATO’s System Operations Services with innovative, collaborative solutions to complex operational problems.
Flight Service began on Aug. 20, 1920, to “ingest and interpret weather and aeronautical information” and pass that information to pilots. Flight Service Stations were originally called “air mail radio stations” since they were located along transcontinental airmail routes that were essential to postal delivery across the country.
Since, Flight Service has become an integral part of the flight planning process. Many pilots use it as their go-to source for comprehensive preflight briefings, and the service has become an integral part of flight training programs.
Since its inception, Flight Service has been available to pilots in the air via radio or on the ground over the phone. Today, Flight Service also offers pilots online weather and aeronautical information on its website, which allows pilots to access updated information in a graphical format before, during and after a flight.
Though many Flight Service practices are standardized across the contiguous 48 U.S. states, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, special Federal Certified Professional Controllers offer service in Alaska. The FAA is investing in an Alaska Flight Service Initiative to “modernize and enhance the effectiveness of Flight Service in Alaska for future generations,” per the FAA’s article. Alaskan pilots also have access to the Aviation Weather Camera Program, which offers pilots access to a “near-real-time” video of weather conditions across the state, for 20 years; that program is being expanded to Colorado as of spring 2020.
Looking ahead, in addition to the Alaska Flight Service Initiative, the FAA is looking at introducing Voice Over Internet Protocol radios to enhance the effectiveness of Flight Service. Flight Service is also developing the Future Flight Service Program to adapt to changes in pilot behavior, developing Flight Service to meet the needs of future aviators across the country.
In CONUS, our provider, Leidos, is working to modernize and save costs in the delivery of flight services, while providing increased efficiency and security with a transition to the first Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) in the National Air Space system.
Great graphic on the history of FSS throughout its century (CLICK on this LINK ).
“Flight service specialists provide safety-critical services to aviators every single day, so it is vital that this service continue,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “We congratulate Leidos on winning and congratulate the FAA on awarding this essential contract that ensures flight service will continue to be accessible to pilots regardless of how they access it.”
Terms of the new contract, which includes a goal of reducing the cost of services by 65 percent over its lifetime, emerged from close cooperation among the agency, AOPA, and other industry stakeholders to understand the present and future needs of general aviation pilots, said Rune Duke, AOPA senior director of airspace, air traffic, and security.
“With the award of this contract, we expect the FAA and Leidos to work closely with AOPA to achieve the goals of the Future Flight Service Program,” he said. “Although one of the requirements of the contract is for the vendor to collaborate with industry, we have had a long-standing relationship with Leidos Flight Service and look forward to continuing that close collaboration to meet general aviation’s needs.”
With a new contract taking effect, the Future Flight Service Program moves on from a period in which service provider Leidos, and before that a former Lockheed Martin business unit, had been operating since 2015 under one-year extensions. The contract does not include Alaska, where the FAA continues to operate flight service.
In the interim, the FAA teamed with AOPA to conduct numerous user surveys and meetings to set priorities for contract services. In 2016, AOPA reported that a user group that studied the question provided a report to the FAA that emphasized the importance of “the continued ability for pilots to talk to a flight briefer, a robust preflight website, and access to key services for third-party vendors.” AOPA had also urged that the contract be awarded through competitive bidding and that services be accessible to pilots via telephone, radio, and web, he said.
AOPA believes the contract lays a solid groundwork for flight service’s future evolution, meeting the challenges presented at a time when a majority of users have shifted to online briefings and when telephone briefings—still a needed component—constitute only 14 percent of total services but account for 94 percent of costs.
Duke also noted that under the new agreement, the service provider will be required to “continue to facilitate and gain stakeholder acceptance of changes in flight service delivery” as the contract period proceeds.
Accomplishing that goal will require Leidos to encourage pilots to “migrate” away from voice services and keep pilots informed about how service changes and enhancements will be introduced over time, according to a summary of contract provisions.
 As the cover graphic indicates, the FSS count rose and recently decreased.
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