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FAA updates key winter airport informationFAA updates key winter airport information

Field conditions, cold-temperature restrictions revisedField conditions, cold-temperature restrictions revised

“Patchy” is making a comeback.

Lake Tahoe Airport

In the year since the FAA required federally obligated airports to use a new format to report field conditions (ficon) in notices to airmen, the agency has collected feedback from users, accepting some suggestions, rejecting others, and suggesting pilot education as another remedy for working with the new terminology.

A goal of the switchover in 2016 to a code system weighted toward percentages and numerical values to measure runway contamination was the elimination of “vague terminology.” That meant doing away with descriptions like “patchy” to describe snow contamination of a surface, as AOPA reported last fall.

But patchy had its following. At a July meeting to provide an update on the Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA) Group’s work to give airport users better runway-condition information, the FAA acknowledged that a top feedback item was the request to “add a capability for airports to report either ‘patchy’ or % coverage on taxiways and aprons.”

The agency agreed to add the capability to report patchy contaminants on taxiways and aprons—with one caveat: "'Patchy' would still mean 25% or less contamination," according to the presentation given at the TALPA meeting.

The revised reporting system divides runways into thirds for condition reporting purposes, and had become the topic of numerous user comments, with airlines expressing concern that a condition reported on one portion of a runway could prevent landing on the runway, based on individual companies’ operating rules. The FAA left resolution of such complications to the parties concerned, stressing pilot education of company policies.

Aviator awareness also was the proposed means of clarifying to pilots that a ficon’s runway condition code “describes the entire length of the runway, even when there is a displaced threshold. It is up to the pilot to factor the displaced threshold into their landing decision.”

For general aviation pilots, using the new formats to determine if runway conditions are safe for use is optional, said Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic.

Not all airports are regularly monitored for field conditions, and the FAA called for additional feedback to determine what guidance on that issue should be added to the appropriate advisory circular.

The agency also reminded airports that ficons should only be reported for the runway in use, not the reciprocal.

Other comments urged the FAA to require airports to report when runways are wet because braking performance could be affected on landing.

The ficon matrix used to assess runway conditions comes in two versions, one for airports’ use, and the other for pilots. The FAA committed to addressing confusion by making sure to clarify which one is being referred to in published materials.

Cold-temperature restricted airports

The FAA has also released a new list of cold temperature restricted airports—those where pilots must make a correction for altimeter error at or below a designated temperature. The list is also published in the current Notices to Airmen Publication.

Last October, the FAA introduced a revised, simplified method of making the mandatory altitude corrections, at the request of pilots and aircraft operators.

Another change being introduced incrementally to government instrument approach charts is an update of the “snowflake” icon/temperature restriction information that notified a pilot that an airport is cold-temperature restricted. The updated symbol eliminates the temperature’s Fahrenheit value, but maintains the degrees Centigrade at or which the altitude correction must be applied.

AOPA advocated for the changes as a participant in the Aeronautical Charting Forum, Duke said.

For more information on this subject, see the Cold Temperature Restricted Airports, Procedures and Best Practices presentation.

Duke added that AOPA encourages operators to follow the FAA’s recommendation to review the Notices to Airmen Publication discussion of cold temperature restricted airports in Part 4. Graphic Notices; to be sure to understand the procedure to be used; and, for international flights, to “consider how to accomplish any necessary personnel training.”

Pilots who wish to comment on ficon notams or cold temperature restricted airport procedures are urged to share their thoughts with AOPA by email.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web 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 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Airport Advocacy, Notams, Pilot Weather Briefing Services

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