Electronic flight plans scrutinized

A key House lawmaker wants Federal Aviation Administration officials to explain why the agency isn't making faster progress on a quest to provide electronic filing of flight plans as part of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA).

A fully electronic flight-plan filing option is not available for pilots, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said in a July 30 letter to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, citing June testimony by Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell Daniels Jr.

"This is precisely the type of high-volume paper transaction that should be a priority for conversion to electronic filing," Burton wrote of the 17 million flight plans filed annually. E-filing "would streamline an overburdened information collection system, significantly reduce the paperwork burden on millions of pilots, and save both time and money for the government and the traveling public."

Burton asked for a briefing on progress the agency has made under a Transportation Department GPEA plan, including its costs and a timetable.

"We're looking at everybody, and when we find success, we want to point that out, and when we find problems, we want to point that out, too," said Mark Corallo, a committee spokesman.

But Warren Morningstar, vice president for communications at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said pilots already can file flight plans electronically using a system called the Direct User Access Terminal Service. The Web-based system also provides weather briefings.

If a plan is telephoned or radioed in, FAA employees enter that information into computers, Morningstar said. "After that initial step, it's all electronic."

Kevin Binger, committee staff director, said FAA staff members can explain which electronic services the agency provides when they meet with the committee. FAA officials could not be reached for comment.

Daniels said in his testimony that although some transactions cannot be performed electronically, or should not be because it's not cost-effective, many programs have "limited excuses" for not going electronic — including FAA flight-plan filing.

"He really wanted to talk about specific examples that needed improvement," Binger said. "The FAA flight plan was the most prominent example he raised."

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