When a late October storm swept into New England, several inches of snow accumulated in the higher elevations. Even in the rainy lowlands, you could label the storm a “Nor’easter,” some TV meteorologists announced with perhaps a touch of glee at the wintry pre-Halloween conditions.
Airports in the Northeast braced for high winds and heavy precip. As the rain pounded down, this notice to airmen reported field conditions (FICON) on the longest runway at New Hampshire’s Manchester Airport: “MHT 10/088 MHT RWY 35 FICON 5/5/5 100 PRCT WET OBSERVED AT 1610281100.”
Since Oct. 1, the new notam format has been based on a coded runway condition assessment matrix that reports runway conditions for each third of the runway—a method the FAA believes gives pilots better visualization of conditions on a runway to be used for landing. It also does away with “vague terminology” such as descriptions like “patchy” for snow contamination of a runway.
The Manchester notam above reports “FICON 5/5/5,” which you would interpret by applying the runway condition described by code 5 to all three thirds of the landing surface.
If a runway had, say, compacted snow on the first third, and compacted snow covered by dry or wet snow on the other two thirds, the report would be given as 4/3/3.
Note that along with the codes and the division of the runway into thirds for reporting purposes, some familiar terminology for pilot reporting of braking action they experience has changed (see the shaded portion of the matrix). For example, the term “fair” has been replaced by “medium.”
The runway condition codes only come into use for reporting once 25 percent of a paved runway is affected.
“This information will enable airplane operators, pilots, and flight planners to determine the distance required to stop on a wet or contaminated paved runway in a more accurate way,” the FAA said.