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Has the 'Notices to Airmen' publication become obsolete?

Obscure notams affect safety, AOPA says

The Notices to Airmen publication (NTAP) is an “obscure resource” that may have outlived its usefulness in an era of technologically advanced ways to disseminate information, AOPA said, responding to an FAA invitation to weigh in on an agency list of top five targets for safety improvements.

The Federal Aviation Administration is one of the many government agencies that have influence over general aviation. Photo by David Tulis.

AOPA stands ready to participate in a safety panel in 2017. It will begin studying a “phased removal” process for the NTAP as well as ways to relocate the valuable information to more familiar and accessible sources.

Every year, the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) convenes a gathering of stakeholders to select the top five hazards in the National Airspace System, based on a quantitative analysis of data.

AOPA was asked to provide input on the Fiscal Year 2017 ATO Top 5 hazards, said Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic.

According to the FAA, “the Top 5 is the culmination of the ATO's proactive safety management activities—valuing input from the frontline employees, deploying technology to gather data, improving analysis to identify risk and embracing correction to mitigate risk.” The ATO uses its Top 5 to set annual priorities for identifying risk, and the organization monitors corrective actions applied to previous Top 5 lists.

For 2017, two of the Top 5 hazards addressed system flaws including “notam issuance/cancellation: lack of, untimely or inappropriate notam in the system,” and “notice to airmen (notam) prioritization: Air Traffic Control/pilot unable to distinguish applicable or pertinent notams.”

The remaining Top 5 hazards were identified as wrong runway landings; runway overflights (unexpected aircraft/vehicle on the runway with another aircraft cleared to take off/land); and “close encounters between IFR and VFR aircraft.”

In a Feb. 1 letter, AOPA proposed evaluating the discontinuance of the NTAP.

“This publication, largely unchanged for decades, has been proven to have limited value and visibility to General Aviation pilots given the technology being employed in the modern National Airspace System (NAS),” Duke wrote. “The NTAP contains operationally significant information; however, the format the FAA provides it in limits a user’s ability to ascertain the pertinent information, which raises safety concerns.”

To improve the visibility of NTAP information, “AOPA requests the FAA evaluate the NTAP jointly with industry to determine its value as a sole source of NOTAMs and aeronautical information, and to determine if this document should be discontinued.”

Before notams were available online, pilots studying the notam system, which generated approximately 1.8 million notams in 2015 with the numbers growing yearly, learned that “published notams”—those appearing in the NTAP—would not be provided during a briefing unless specifically requested by the pilot.

Now, however, published notams appear in the FAA’s online notam search web page. An unintended consequence of their inclusion has been the creation of a false impression among pilots that all notams are now discussed by specialists during a weather briefing.

“This misunderstanding is raising the question for many pilots of why Flight Service specialists are failing to brief the NOTAMs that the pilot is able to view on their computer,” Duke wrote.

AOPA provided examples from Aviation Safety Reporting System filings submitted by pilots of operational problems resulting from the NTAP’s “lack of visibility.”

“The NTAP is an obscure resource that is not a regular flight planning document for many pilots, which has caused operational and safety impacts on actual flights,” Duke wrote. “AOPA believes the solution must be to integrate the important information found within the NTAP into those resources that pilots do utilize, such as NOTAM Search, and not to continue segregating information into various places.”

With most but not all NTAP notams and notices available to the 80 percent of GA pilots who routinely use electronic flight bags in the cockpit, “the expectation is that the information being provided to them is complete,” he wrote.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, NextGen, Notams

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