The crash of the Gulfstream III last week in Aspen has revealed some of the shortcomings in the FAA's notices to airmen system. AOPA has been pushing the FAA to rationalize and modernize the system for distributing flight safety information.
An FAA flight check had determined the instrument approach to Aspen-Pitkin County Airport to be unsafe days before last week's Gulfstream III accident. The crash, which occurred shortly after nightfall March 29, destroyed the aircraft and killed all 15 passengers and three crew. The FAA issued a notam prohibiting night instrument approaches March 26. That notam was distributed to flight service stations by computer. The Gulfstream pilot was briefed on the notam. But according to the NTSB investigation, Aspen Tower (which is supposed to get notams by fax) did not know night instrument approaches were no longer available.
While that may or may not turn out to be a factor in the accident, the different delivery systems and multiple notam categories illustrate a system that started with teletypes and has failed to evolve to modern communications methods, according to AOPA's Vice President of Air Traffic Services Melissa Bailey.
"All notams should be put in a searchable database, accessible over the Internet," said Bailey. "That way pilots, briefers and ATC personnel could easily get the flight safety information pertinent to their operations without wading through reams of extraneous data."
AOPA will continue its efforts to modernize the notam system.