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L notams won't be local much longer

When the NTSB convenes July 26 to discuss the Comair Flight 5191 accident last August at Blue Grass Airport (Lexington, Kentucky), the issue of notams is likely to come up.

Information has been given to the NTSB, contending that the pilots of that flight never saw the L notams that would have told them the primary taxiway to their assigned runway (Runway 22) was closed, that the "distance remaining" signs were out of service, and that the shorter Runway 26 was unlit and for daytime-use only. The crew attempted to take off on Runway 26 in the dark and ran off the end.

"We have been advocating changes to the antiquated notam system for more than 10 years," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "And by the end of this year, pilots should finally have universal access to L notams."

AOPA is serving on an FAA safety analysis working group that is conducting one final review before the agency puts L notams into the national distribution system.

The reason they aren't currently has much to do with history and old technology. The FAA used to transmit everything by teletype, which could handle only a limited amount of information. The abbreviations in today's weather reports and notams are a legacy of that "low bandwidth" system where every single character was precious.

Local notams are limited to simple airport issues, such as taxiway lights and construction, fuel availability, equipment working near the runway, etc. L notams are retained at the area flight service station and aren't distributed to other stations or the DUAT/DUATS system. That makes them hard to get unless you know to ask for them.

But soon you won't have to ask, possibly as early as this fall.

And AOPA is working with the FAA for other improvements to notams as well. A little farther down the road, the FAA will add additional coding to notam text, which will permit automated systems to "parse" the data.

"What that will really mean is that in the future you will get only those notams that apply to your flight, and not notices about laser light displays 100 miles off your course or flight restrictions in Afghanistan," said Rudinger.

July 24, 2007

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