NOTAM too cluttered
AOPA and others recommend LESS at NTAP review
Reading paper replaced by WAZE-like technology?
The FAA has started to streamline one of its core flight information publications in response to safety-minded recommendations from the aviation community.
By Dan Namowitz
Beginning with the Feb. 28, 2019, edition, the Notices to Airmen Publication (NTAP)—repository of copious quantities of critical and permanent air traffic system and airport-specific NOTAMs—will become a pared-down volume with the elimination of its Part 1, a listing of hundreds of flight data center (FDC) NOTAMs.
The slimming down of the NTAP, which is reissued every 28 days, will continue in succeeding issues, said Rune Duke, AOPA senior director of airspace, air traffic, and aviation security. Duke represented AOPA in the NTAP review that the FAA initiated to examine the publication’s role in the era of expanding digital information resources.
The FAA publicized the impending change in a foreword to the Jan. 3, 2019, edition of the NTAP, noting, “Part 1, FDC NOTAMs, will be removed from the Notices to Airmen Publication effective February 28, 2019. These NOTAMs will still be considered on request items when obtaining a briefing from Flight Service Stations (FSS).”
The decision to cut Part 1 from the NTAP for starters was a response to AOPA’s urging and to recommendations made by the technical-guidance advisory organization RTCA, Duke said. Two safety panels were convened in 2017 and 2018, with the decision to cut Part 1 emerging from the first and a review of the other portions of the NTAP taking place during the second panel. AOPA provided examples of pilot concerns about the NTAP, including complaints filed with the Aviation Safety Reporting System that highlighted the need to “make information available to pilots in a modern way,” he said.
To illustrate the effect of streamlining the NTAP, the 477-page current edition would have only been 152 pages without Part 1, he said.
The change will not delete any NTAP information not available through other FAA sources.
“The outcome in summary is that redundant and outdated information is being removed and there is now a more effective quality assurance system in place,” Duke said. Guidance on using the NTAP and on NOTAMs in general will soon be published in the Aeronautical Information Manual.
Duke reiterated the importance of pilots—especially those planning instrument flights—requesting airway and procedural NOTAMs, and NOTAMs the FAA describes as “general in nature and not tied to a specific airport/facility (for example, flight advisories and restrictions, open duration special security instructions, and special flight rules area),” during preflight briefings. The FAA’s online Notam Search site also provides these notices.
“We appreciate the FAA acting on our concerns and continuing their modernization effort of the delivery of NOTAM information,” he said. “The number of obscure resources and publications pilots are expected to review before flight is confusing and is a well-documented frustration, as well as a hazard. AOPA will continue to work with the FAA on consolidating preflight resources and making them digitally available to pilots.”
While less may be more, when the focus is paper media solely, might not technology deliver technology at the time that it is NEEDED, not during flight preparation:
NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt called the NOTAM system in the U.S. “messed up” this week during a hearing on the July 7, 2017 incident at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in which an Air Canada Airbus A320 nearly landed on a crowded taxiway. The crew mistook the taxiway as their cleared runway—28R—because Runway 28L was closed. The pilots failed to catch that note on page eight of the 27-page list the SFO NOTAMs.
After acknowledging the “crew didn’t comprehend the NOTAMs,” Sumwalt then read a verbose and complicated entry that limited a portion of a taxiway to aircraft with a wingspan of 214 feet or less. “Why is this even on there?” he asked. “That’s what NOTAMs are: they’re a bunch of garbage that no one pays any attention to,” adding that they’re often written in a language that only computer programmers would understand.
Sumwalt also relayed a recent experience he had flying the jumpseat into North Carolina’s Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, saying, “There were pages and pages and pages of NOTAMs, including one for birds in the vicinity of the airport…when are there not birds in the vicinity of an airport?”
Not surprisingly, one of the NTSB’s six safety recommendations stemming from this incident is a “more effective presentation of flight operations information to optimize pilot review and retention of relevant information.”
Here is what the NOTAM looks like for SFO on 10/01; there are 87 entries:
And from within that list, the pilots needed to find this Notice that Runway 28L was closed:
Ideally, professional pilots should be able to read all 87 of them and identify the notices that are relevant. Unfortunately, it is easy to find, after the fact, that an important warning was missed.
The diagram (on the right) shows how the information is organized. Typical content includes airport, facility and procedural. The specifics may describe corrections to the aeronautical chart, limiting weather conditions, Standard Instrument Approach Procedures, flight restrictions, closure of runways/taxiways, outage of navigation systems, new or temporary procedures, locations of obstructions and more relevant data. Some of the entries continue on the list for months; others are temporary. The list of abbreviations run for 7 pages and the font is minuscule.
There are airport specific NOTAMs and they are issued for ARTCCs. The information is available online on an app, in most airline pilot ready rooms and at airports. NOTAMs are staffed at the Air Traffic Control System Command Center. There knowledgeable controllers constantly update all of the NOTAMs
Chairman Sumwalt’s term “garbage” is an expression of frustration. His real point is that there is SO much detail, that important information is obfuscated. That is a goal well stated in the abstract. The existence of a construction crane may be considered trivial unless the pilot fails to maintain adequate altitude to avoid the obstruction.
Clearly there is some need to prioritize and/or categories of information included. The mass of Notices makes it difficult to remember/apply that 87th item when lining up a runway or turning into a taxiway or avoiding an obstruction or follow a new AT procedure.
Maybe a technology like WAZE, that makes car drivers aware of specific warnings as the vehicles approach the relevant point, could load the NOTAM information to display it in advance of the interaction?
There is an existing application which provides drivers NOTAM like information. Why not apply it to pilots, too.
Share this article: