Knowing your notices to airmen can ensure the successful completion of a flight, or if ignored, potentially lead to a different outcome.
But there’s a well-known catch: Getting your hands on notams you need can be dicey because they may be filed in a variety of information systems; in the case of notam information considered to have been “published,” you won’t be told about it during a briefing unless you remember to ask the briefer to look it up.
In the digital age, that seems a recipe for obsolescence for the Notices to Airmen Publication. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to be able to see all the notams you need in one place, without having to ask twice, on a system that is already up and running on the FAA’s website?
Now that question is on the table at the FAA, which had already placed a spotlight on notams when its Air Traffic Organization singled out the notam system in two of its annual National Airspace System Top 5 hazards listed for 2017.
Having helped pose the question, AOPA offered an answer, making the case for change at an August meeting of a safety panel convened by the FAA to look at upgrading the notam system generally, and perhaps finding a replacement for the Notices to Airmen Publication, with its flaws and drawbacks.
The session in Washington, D.C., followed the FAA’s approval in July of the charter of a Notam Task Force implemented “to improve NOTAM policy, management, and training and to jointly address changes that will improve timely NOTAM coordination and dissemination (e.g., equipment/processing).” AOPA helped formulate the charter and serves on the task force.
Citing examples of flawed and dated notams from a recent edition of the Notices to Airmen Publication, Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic, showed how the publication’s 28-day revision schedule makes it difficult to include important notams or weed out those that go out of date.
The Notices to Airmen Publication’s Part 1, Flight Data Center (FDC) notams would be the first section to be eliminated because it is already a redundant resource, as FDC notams are easily accessed elsewhere. The fate of the publication’s other parts would be evaluated later, Duke said.
The FAA is aware that pilots don’t use notams as much as the agency wants them to, and that missed or misinterpreted notams have generated numerous filings with the Aviation Safety Reporting System when hazardous operations or violations ensued.
But that isn’t the only way the system’s effectiveness breaks down.
“The task force learned that other users, including general aviation airport managers, did not fully understand the importance of notams being accurate and timely,” Duke said.
In an effort to help users become more notam-savvy, the task force is working on producing a “NOTAM 101” presentation “that could be used as a teaching aid for pilots, and as the start of an education effort,” he said.
Duke said a “recent success” for notam distribution—which can surpass a million notams in a year—was the creation of the FAA’s notam search tool with its advanced capabilities to filter long lists of notams, and find other material by searching under an airport’s identifier. AOPA played a role in the site’s development.
Following the presentation, the FAA will decide whether the Notices to Airmen Publication will be re-evaluated, as industry consensus urges, and whether to act on other suggested corrective actions to be taken gradually, one phased project at a time.
“The changes will not occur overnight,” Duke said.