AIR TO GROUND
The Art of Complaint
In our society we face petty annoyances every day, and because our lives are so fast paced we tend to shrug them off rather than take the time to complain to the people who might be able to change things. The delivery truck that cuts you off while changing lanes may cause you to mentally say “I am going to call his company and report him!” ― but if you remember it when you are near a phone, other responsibilities may have already claimed your attention and that call is never made.
Both pilots and airline customers have several avenues to register complaints about how the air traffic system is run, if they are willing and wanting to add their input. For overall comments on safety issues, low flying aircraft, airline delays, lost luggage, there is a Web page that separates areas of responsibility and gives specific emails and contact information through www.faa.gov/contact.
Should the concern be related to the ATC system, national security, or is something you feel needs to be addressed immediately, the FAA has a hotline available 24 hours a day at 1-866-TELL-FAA (1-866-835-5322).
Complaints concerning flight service can be addressed directly to Lockheed Martin Flight Services (LMFS) through its Web site at www.afss.com. Both Lockheed Martin and the FAA also work with and listen to the major pilot organizations such as AOPA. A good way to bring up general issues may be to write a letter to the AOPA editor highlighting what you see as a problem.
An example of a good overall complaint would be if you’ve noticed that traffic at a noncontrolled airport is increasing enough that it is becoming dangerous to fly in and out at certain times so a tower would be advantageous to the safe and efficient flow of operations, and no one seems to be doing anything in that direction. You can send a letter to AOPA and email the FAA, and have a lot of the other pilots in the area do so as well.
Lockheed Martin Flight Services has an active pilot feedback department. If you say nice things about a specific service, your compliment will get to the specialist – same for complaints. What a lot of pilots do not realize is that this is also a great avenue to vent frustrations with how things are run overall.
For instance, the FAA requires the LMFS specialists ask certain questions every time you call on the radios. The radio specialist is required to ensure you: A) have the weather advisories en route; B) look up whether the airport you are departing has an AWOS/ASOS and then say “monitor current AWOS for current altimeter” or if not, then find a local altimeter for you; C) Check the NOTAMs at your destination for runway and airport closures; D) Check to see if there are TFR’s along your route; E) Request Pilot Reports as necessary; and finally, F) Suggest you call Flight Watch if needed. If you are landing in the area belonging to the radio facility you are talking to, that specialist is also required to check for NOTAMs at your destination.
As you can see, activating a flight plan, or closing it, or simply calling flight services at all involves a lot more than just performing the requested service. Do you think all these steps are necessary? Why or Why not? Would you add any other requirements?
Though most of these actions have been in FAA document 7110.10 (the FSS bible) for years, some of these requirements have been added because of requests through pilots and AOPA, others were FAA generated. Fifteen years ago many of these actions were not required, but the world was different then, there had been no 9/11, we did not have the computer ability to access all the TFR and NOTAM information in a timely manner, and there might be only one published altimeter setting available in a a 100 square mile area!
When you notice an airport procedure, an ATC practice or other aviation related items that you really think needs changing, take a moment and write it down then later enter it into one of the avenues for action. State the problem as you see it and give cogent reasons why it needs changing and your recommendations for that change. One pilot from Maine asked how he could file low altitude IFR down the Eastern seaboard to Florida without ATC making him route way to the west to get around the SFRA. Would you like the FAA to have a portion of its Web site available to pilots that shows approved low altitude routings east of DC? Suggest that!
If you have a compliment or complaint that is related to a specific service, be sure to give the aircraft call sign, the date of the service, the facility you spoke to and the approximate time. Follow that with a synopsis of what occurred and why you felt it was good or bad. The appropriate office will listen to the ATC recordings of the events and you will be contacted with the findings.
There are two kinds of complaints – usable and unusable. Just being angry and complaining will not go as far to achieving your end as being able to present your concerns logically.
Pilots should speak up on issues and concerns they have on the overall ATC system as well as any personal complaint – it is a good way for the FAA or Lockheed Martin to know the minds of the customers they serve.
Rose Marie Kern has worked in Air Traffic since 1983. Questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org