“(NOTAMs) are just a bunch of garbage that nobody pays any attention to"
NOTAMs have long towed the “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” path, but now that the FAA broke them, will ICAO give it a second look?
The FAA system that is meant to distribute notices to pilots on hazards failed today. Flights were halted and then made to resume after the outage, but should this outdated system be given a second look?
Do not index
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I've been trying to wrap my head around the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) NOTAM blackout today, and why this happening now is a big signal for aviation worldwide to begin refreshing old systems and conventions. NOTAMs and its associated tech is outdated and needs active reviewing by regulators to align with the times we live in.
At the end of every few weeks I receive a summary of NOTAMs from the Airspace Information Services office of our local CAA. The PDF document that is sent usually bears the title "LIST OF VALID NOTAMs XXX-20XX", where XXX is the current month and XX the current year.
Even though these compilations can sometimes extend beyond 10 pages, and have a slew of unfamiliar acronyms, I've trained myself to identify and skim for keywords for which a keener second look is necessary.
First I lookout for DGAA, which is the ICAO 4-letter Airport Code for Accra's Kotoka International Airport, then I usually look for DNMM (Lagos), DIAP (Abidjan) and occasionally DXXX (Lome) and DBBB (Cotonou), airspaces and destinations we frequently engage with.
Next, I pick out words like UNSERVICEABLE, WIP (Work In Progress), PROHIBITED, MAINT (Maintenance), EXTENSION, OPERATION, CONCENTRATION, CAUTION, LAUNCH, ROCKET, INSTEAD, etc. These help me know which NOTAMs to immediately give attention to since they may be closely related to our operations, and oftentimes it turns out I am right.
There've been reports of pilots using wrong runways, narrowly missing parked aircraft, and suffering excursions, because they failed to notice a NOTAM advising of a particularly dangerous event. The excuse is mostly attributed to oversight, due to the sheer volume of NOTAM pages pilots sometime have to glance through, for most international flights.
Of course these are valid concerns raised by pilots the world over advocating for reviews to the way NOTAMs are still distributed, as well as their encoded shorthand message formatting.
Even the former U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt is attributed to have said,
and he may just about be right.
Yet, until there's enough global push to force a new format, pilots may need to be more deliberate with the way they read NOTAMs, and CAAs must take the task of ensuring distribution systems' work efficiently more seriously.