Pilots have a love/hate relationship with NOTAMs. We love that they can alert us to things like closed runways or temporary flight restrictions. But we hate reading through dozens of NOTAMs for unlit, 300 foot towers when we plan to cruise at 8,000 feet. The really important NOTAMs are buried in a long list of NOTAMs that don’t apply. That’s all about to change.
Admittedly, the title was selected to catch your attention. I certainly don’t propose pilots ignore all NOTAMs. Instead, the FAA and industry stakeholders are working towards new solutions that will reduce the overwhelming volume of NOTAMs that pilots have to sift through prior to flight.
Less NOTAMs = better NOTAMs
There are just too many NOTAMs. A 200 mile flight can lead to page after page of NOTAMs. While every NOTAM is important to someone, most are applicable to only a small segment of users. I don’t care about taxiway wingspan limitations of 200 feet when I’m flying a Mooney. Irrelevant (to my flight) NOTAMs only clog up preflight activities, detract from the applicable NOTAMs, and create unnecessary workload.
It’s not about reducing the total number of NOTAMs in the system. It’s about presenting pilots with only those NOTAMs that actually matter to that pilot for that flight. Wouldn’t you agree that pilots are more likely to read, understand, and follow NOTAMs when there are less overall, and only applicable NOTAMs are presented?
Search, Sort, and Filter
The Pilot’s Bill of Rights was signed into law on August 3, 2012 and included provisions for the creation of a NOTAM Improvement Panel that would review the FAA’s progress and make recommendations for future improvements. The FAA finally complied and created the group in the summer of 2013. I am excited to represent AOPA members as the Co-Chairman of the NOTAM Improvement Task Group. Over the past few months, a dozen-plus representatives of various stakeholders have met multiple times to review the FAA’s NOTAM improvement progress and make recommendations on further refinements.
The most significant improvement to NOTAM delivery will come from the ability to filter out NOTAMs. This will reduce the overall volume of NOTAMs that a pilot sees. Next, a pilot can sort the results so that the most important NOTAMs (runway closed, TFRs, etc.) appear at the top of the report. Additional enhancements will include the option for plain language, lower-case lettering, and graphic NOTAMs.
Crawl, walk, run
Before we can really leverage the power of search, sort, and filter, we need digital NOTAM data. These NOTAMs follow strict formatting rules that enable a computer to run the algorithms to search, sort, and filter. Trouble is, only about 60% of all NOTAMs are digitized today. The remaining 40% come from the smaller airports that serve primarily, or exclusiv3ely, general aviation traffic. That is why AOPA is pushing hard for 100% digitization of NOTAMs.
The real magic in digitized NOTAMs will be realized through third-party vendors. They will be able to integrate the NOTAM data and manipulate the presentation to be even more useful to pilots. Imagine looking at an airport diagram on your tablet computer and visually seeing a taxiway colored red. It’s a graphic depiction of the NOTAM letting pilot’s know about a closed taxiway. I think we are just scratching the surface of what technology will enable. Ultimately, we are headed towards more applicable NOTAMs, delivered at the right time, and in a format that pilots can easily use.
What improvements to the NOTAM system would you like to see implemented?