A new report claims that the FAA’s tower light outage procedure has not only changed to a privatized system, but the new phone system used is dangerously unreliable. In June, Lockheed Martin took over the FAA communications for Southern California, making it necessary to contact their call center in Arizona to report outages. The following text is from Bob Gonsett’s CGC Communicator.
New Procedure for Reporting Tower Outages
(From CGC Communicator #809) According to the FAA, the operations of the Flight Service
Stations have been privatized to Lockheed Martin. The new
procedure for reporting tower light outages is as follows:
- Dial (1) 877-487-6867.
- When prompted by the phone tree, say the state where the light outage is occurring. (If you say “California,” the tree will then ask if you mean northern California or southern California. Southern California, we are told, means the bottom third of the state including Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.)
- You should then hear a recording that says, “Please wait while I connect you with a flight briefer.” You should then be connected with a briefer in Prescott, AZ, where the workers are Lockheed Martin employees and are on duty 24/7. Give the briefer the outage information and they will issue a NOTAM (Notice to All Airmen) advising pilots of the tower light failure.
It would be appreciated if the FCC issued a Public Notice to alert tower owners of the fundamental changes listed above.
Beware: The New FAA Lockheed Martin Phone Tree is Unreliable
The FAA Lockheed Martin phone tree described above has reportedly been in place for about two weeks and is erratic and unreliable. Callers have trouble getting through.
To test the system, CGC called the 877 number a dozen times on September 17 & 18, 2007. We always worked our way through the phone tree and were always told to wait for a flight briefer. In five of the test calls, we were connected to a briefer within seconds, and when we immediately called the 877 number again, we got through again. In the other seven calls, the phone tree put us on hold for about a minute and then disconnected the call. When we called again seconds later, the same thing (disconnect) happened again. So, sometimes the system works, sometimes it fails.
An FCC employee independently tested the 877 number and agrees that the system is unreliable and in urgent need of repair. In three FCC attempts to reach a briefer, two failed. However, the mode of the phone tree failure was different from CGC’s experience. After the “please wait” announcement, the FCC agent waited over 15 minutes, never got disconnected, did get music on hold and announcements, but never got through to a live person.
The 877-487-6867 phone tree is indeed in urgent need of repair because it handles safety-of-life information. Hopefully the current round of problems will be resolved soon, but Murphy lives and the FAA should consider putting a plain old telephone (POT) on the wall of each of the Lockheed Martin call centers so we have an alternate means of contact. Just common sense.