Why Is The NOTAM System Broken?

Why Is The NOTAM System Broken?

DALLAS — On January 11, the skies over the US fell eerily quiet. The lead-up to the airspace closure was very much a bittersweet scenario.

Bitter for those passengers that were onboard aircraft that had to taxi back to the terminal. Yet sweet for those passengers that were lucky enough to depart just moments before the shutdown was initiated.

As the dust settled and inevitable questions arose as to why this happened, media outlets were confronted with an acronym not often heard before, NOTAM.

What it refers to is ‘Notice to Air Missions’ but has historically been known as ‘Notice to Airmen’. Essentially, it’s a system to pass on flight safety-related information to pilots about temporary changes. Examples could be a closed taxiway or a ground-based navigation aid being taken offline for maintenance.

The recent NOTAM outage in January caused immense travel disruption in the US. Photo: Michael Rodeback/Airways

A Plethora of Problems

Whilst the FAA admitted the January outage was linked to a ‘database problem’, it shone the spotlight on a system that is plagued with inadequacies.

Underpinning the global NOTAM system is an elderly communications system that is unable to transmit graphical information and can only display block capital text.

Adding salt to the already painful wound is a massive increase in recent decades in the volume of NOTAM data that is created. Frustratingly, a significant proportion of such data is of little interest to routine operations.

These factors, along with others, have created a global NOTAM system that is in need of major reform.

Pick up a copy of the June edition of the Airways magazine coming out next month to learn more about why the NOTAM system is not fit for purpose and more importantly, what’s being done to improve it.

Featured image courtesy: Capt. Miten Patel

Aviation author and commercial pilot based in the UK, with close to twenty years in the industry.

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