Archive for April, 2014

Read the Flippin’ Notam!

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

LAL arrivalsI’m not a big fan of the largely bureaucratic exercise we call the notam system. Most notams are nearly irrelevant and a few are absolutely critical. For those few that are operationally essential, pilots should darn well better know what’s happening.

Last week, flying into the Sun ‘n Fun (SNF) area—and although not headed directly to Lakeland (LAL)—it seemed prudent to review the notam. An airshow of that magnitude can booger up (a technical ATC term) a lot of airspace and multiple airports. The controllers were masterful in separating the IFR types from each other and the VFR inbounds to LAL and various satellite airports.

But there are a few—well OK a few more than a few—who were what I’ll charitably call “clueless.” There is a 37-page notam that covers every aspect of operating in and around SNF. It’s well written and organized—would that ALL notams were as pertinent and well written. Besides just the logistics of operating in highly congested airspace, there is essential safety info to keep aircraft from swapping paint or worse!

Right there on page four it says: “The airport is CLOSED during aerobatic demonstrations and nightly from 2200-0600 EDT (0200-1000 UTC).” It is even highlighted in yellow, so you can’t miss it! On the very next page there is a table that states exactly when the airport is closed for the daily airshow given in both local and UTC (GMT or Zulu, whatever you’d like to call that time that everybody has trouble remembering the conversion factor for).

So, about 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, when the airport closed at 1200 (noon) local, the Tampa controller asked a LAL-bound pilot if he was going to make it in before 1200. The pilot answered he’d be “maybe a few minutes late.” The controller asked if he had any alternatives in mind. Well, it’s a new day and the pilot hadn’t considered that, so the controller patiently listed several other airports that might be used. Our friend asked which one had ground transportation to the show! Somebody else piped up with an answer, and “Mr. Better-Informed” headed off.

Shortly after that, two other inbounds also decided that they, too, would divert. Finally, a jet called in on the Lake Parker VFR Arrival—used only for piston aircraft—and ATC calmly explained that he’d get vectors for a straight-in to Runway 9.

So, while this is a good example of a notable notam ignored, way too many are irrelevant. Too many committees have all promised that they would fix the system, and all that started at least 15 years ago!

Two observations:

1. Stop giving notams in code—the teletype isn’t coming back, and we can handle the bandwidth.

2. Stop listing operationally irrelevant stuff, like unlit towers five miles from the airport and 275 feet agl. If you’re operating a helicopter at night that may be useful, but for the rest of us it just creates clutter.

Next time you’re planning a trip, please review all the items that somebody thought would be essential for you to fly safely. We’ll give a prize for whoever comes up with the most absurd. Remember to parse out the critical stuff that may have been buried—some of it is really important. And if you’re going to an airshow—please read the flippin’ notam.