Change has finally come to the NOTAM system, though the jury is out on just how well the FAA’s guidance on and modifications to the system will work in real life.
The FAA has issued an Advisory Circular (AC) providing updated guidance on when and how NOTAMs should be issued, with the hoped-for goal of making it easier for pilots to interpreting and follow the NOTAMs that are published. Specifically, it states “This AC provides guidance on using the NOTAM system for airport condition reporting and procedures used to describe, format, and disseminate information on unanticipated or temporary changes to components of, or hazards in, the National Airspace System (NAS).”
Every pilot knows or should know, what the problems with NOTAMs are. NOTAMs, which are kind of like annotations to the charted airspace data, are necessary, because charts can only be updated so fast, and charts are incapable, at least given the current state of the technology, of reflecting temporary or localized changes, like the presence of an unlighted 250-foot-tall construction crane that will be located two miles south of unlucky Runway 13 for the next couple of weeks. NOTAMs, which once stood for Notices to Airmen and which are now in the interest of non-gendered language said to stand for “Notices to Air Missions,” are problematic. There are too many of them, many of them are outdated, unclear, or needless, which all go to create a NOTAM system that is bulky, mystifying, and ultimately unworkable.
This change was designed to eliminate NOTAMs that are ambiguous, including some NOTAMs that are well past their expiration date. Those inaccurate NOTAMs provide erroneous information that jammed up the system and negated any positive effect that the NOTAM was designed to deliver. The new guidance is intended to ensure that any published NOTAM serves the intended purpose, as outlined in the Advisory Circular. Again, that is the hoped-for outcome.
Additionally, the AC reiterates that “NOTAMs should not be used to impose restrictions on airport access for the purpose of controlling or managing noise or to advertise data already published or charted.”
Another common complaint in the pilot community is that airports forget to remove the NOTAM when they no longer apply. At the very least, this generally creates confusion, and at the worst it has the potential to create a safety hazard.
The FAA’s hope is that NOTAM creators, by following this new AC guidance, will help provide a cleaner NOTAM environment, giving pilots more confidence in relying on the NOTAM system and therefore making use of it.