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Notams on FIS-B may be short-livedNotams on FIS-B may be short-lived

Here’s a question any pilot using the Flight Information Services-Broadcast (FIS-B) to check notices to airmen should be able to answer: What does it mean when a notam you need is subject to FIS-B’s 30-day limitation? Not knowing the answer could cause problems during a flight.

The answer is that FIS-B aeronautical information products broadcast over the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) universal access transceiver link “do not include all NOTAMs. FIS-B NOTAM information is limited to the preceding 30 days.” FIS-B aeronautical information, which the FAA refers to as AI, “may not include all NOTAMs that a preflight briefing includes. The pilot in command (PIC) is responsible for reviewing all necessary information prior to flight. Therefore, AI information obtained solely via FIS-B should not be regarded as a thorough preflight briefing,” the FAA cautioned in a recently issued Information for Operators publication.

Digital information gathering is a convenience hard to beat compared to old-school methods. But don’t confuse convenient information with comprehensive information, because as AOPA and the FAA are pointing out, FIS-B information is no substitute for a complete notam review, any more, say, than simply checking the weather at your destination would constitute a complete weather briefing.

Since 2016, AOPA has been concerned that pilots may not know about this shortcoming; it resulted from a policy change the FAA announced in September of that year, advising that notam-Ds and notam-FDCs with an effective date or issuance date 30 days in the past would no longer be broadcast. The reason for the service cutback was lack of available bandwidth to carry so many notams; the agency estimated that about 20 percent fewer would be uplinked because of the service change.

Meanwhile, more pilots were taking advantage of FIS-B, but after a notam advising of the change ran its course and was canceled, the only way for most pilots to become aware of it was to find the information in an obscure appendix of FAA Advisory Circular 00-63A—not on many pilots’ reading list. According to an FAA survey, 37 percent of FIS-B users depended on AOPA articles to learn how the service works, but only 15 percent relied on FAA sources for their information. Twenty-three percent depended on manufacturers or vendors for their FIS-B user information, and the rest used other sources or replied, “I don’t know.”

In response to other questions, only 17 percent of survey respondents were able to pinpoint 30 days as the point at which some notams dropped off FIS-B. Another significant minority—about 16 percent of respondents—said they always or frequently relied on FIS-B as their only source of notam information, highlighting the lack of information about its proper use.

As a result, AOPA urged in a February 2018 letter that the FAA’s Flight Standards Service include information about the service change in the Aeronautical Information Manual and conduct “additional outreach.”

The AIM update is in the works, said Rune Duke, AOPA senior manager for airspace, air traffic, and aviation security, and additional outreach has begun with publication of the Information for Operators.

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: Advocacy, ADSB, NextGen

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