Tag: Notams

NTSB: Current NOTAM system is “just a bunch of garbage”

You were all very supportive when we wrote the initial article on the BS Notam problem last year, and have followed our journey in fixing the problem since then.

Big news!

The NTSB called the Notam System a bunch of garbage on Tuesday this week, and assigned probable cause of the AC759 incident in SFO to the Notams that were missed.


What this means to OpsGroup is massive fuel to our fire: we are working hard to fix this problem, and having a public facing government organisation like the NTSB come down like a ton of bricks on the Notam System drives us forward in leaps and bounds.

The group members have been decisive in helping us to identify the problem and taking action to fix this. So, we want to acknowledge all of you! Great work!

In solving two of the above five problems, we have been working with ICAO for several months now. You all got involved in Normand 17,000 Notams later, we happy to report that version 0.1 of Norm is now live on the ICAO website. Norm is a bot – an AI, that has learned what Notams look like, and thanks to OpsGroup rating these 17,000 Notams, is also learning which ones are critical and which ones are not.

He’s still young. He doesn’t get everything, but if you feed him a Notam you’ll see him assign it a criticality of 1-5.

This will in turn allow us to sort Notams, putting the most important stuff first.


The risks posed to civil aircraft by surface-to-air missiles

In Short: Worldwide the SAM threat is deemed to be “low” by ICAO with the caveat that this can change quickly when flying over or near conflict zones. The best risk mitigation is centred around which airspace you are operating over and what information you have access to. As we have explained before: There is no safe altitude from a large SAM.

What are surface-to-air missiles, and who has them?

Surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) are large, complex units, with the capability of reaching aircraft at cruising levels well above 25,000 ft, and they are designed to be operated by trained military personnel.

They are distinct from Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS), which are the smaller, shoulder-launched systems, the most dangerous of which being the FIM-92 Stinger which has an operational ceiling of 26,000 ft.

SAM systems vary but they are all designed to track and destroy military targets in flight. Due to the size and predictable flight paths, civil aircraft represent easy and highly vulnerable targets.

Many SAMs are mobile and can be moved quickly between locations. Many are located on warships. It is estimated that more than 70 States around the world have acquired SAMs as part of their military capability. A small number of non-State actors (i.e. militant groups) have also reportedly acquired SAMs, but as they require a radar system as part of the mechanism, they may not have the technical capability to use them. To date, SAMs have never been used by terrorists.

What has happened in the past?

There have been three documented occurrences where aircraft destruction has occurred due to SAM attacks.

The risk of intentional attack

To date, no documented case of intentional SAM attack on a civilian aircraft has been identified. In the case of MH17 and Iran Air, both occurred during periods of military conflict or high tension, whilst Siberia flight 1812 was shot down during a military training exercise.

ICAO say that “with regard to the States and non-State actors that currently do have access to SAMs, there is no reason to believe that the intent currently exists to target civil aviation deliberately.” And with regards to terrorist groups (as opposed to militarized forces), they say that “even where intent may exist there is currently no evidence of capability (in terms of hardware and trained personnel).”

Overall, the current risk to aviation from intentional SAM attack is therefore currently assessed to be low, the key caveat being to avoid overflying airspace over territory where terrorist groups tend to operate – normally areas of conflict where there is a breakdown of State control.

The risk of unintentional attack

Past events show us that the higher risk to civil aviation is from unintended and unintentional attacks when flying over or near conflict zones – missiles fired at military aircraft which miss their target, missiles fired at civil aircraft which have been misidentified as military aircraft, and missiles fired by State defence systems intended to shoot down other missiles.

Areas where there are armed conflicts going on clearly present an increased risk of an unintentional attack. But when assessing the risk of overflying a particular conflict zone, here are some more specific questions to consider:

Are there increased levels of military aircraft flying around in the region?

This could be anything from fighter jets being operated in a combat role, or for hostile reconnaissance; remotely piloted aircraft; or military aircraft used to transport troops or equipment. If military aircraft are one of the most likely targets for intentional attacks, then the chances of civil aircraft being mistakenly targeted increases in those areas where there are lots of military aircraft zipping around.

Are there likely to be a bunch of poorly trained or inexperienced personnel operating SAMs in the region?

This may be difficult to evaluate, but the risk is likely to be highest where SAMs may have been acquired by non-State actors. The risk is also likely to be higher in places where there is less of a robust command and control procedure for launching missiles, thus increasing the risk of misidentification of civil aircraft.

Is the territory below the airspace fully controlled by the State?

If not, and there are some areas controlled by militant or terrorist groups, the information on the presence and type of weaponry in such areas, as well as the information on who controls them, may not be readily available. In such regions, the information promulgated by the State about the risks to airspace safety may therefore not be 100% reliable.

Does the route pass over or near anywhere of particular importance in the context of the conflict?

These could be areas or locations that may be of strategic importance or sensitivity in the conflict, such as key infrastructure or military sites, which might be considered potential targets for air attack and would therefore be more likely to be guarded by SAMs.

Ultimately, risk mitigation is centred around which airspace you are operating over and what information you have access to. But as has been reported in the past, history has shown us that badly-written information published by the State often does little to highlight the real dangers posed by overflying conflict zones.

There is some evidence to suggest that more States are starting to provide better guidance and information to assist operators in making appropriate routing decisions, but we think this still has some way to go.

That is why we have been running our safe airspace map to provide guidance to assist operators in determining whether to avoid specific airspaces around the world.


Extra Reading:

Bad NOTAMS = Runway overruns in Hamburg

If you’re headed to Hamburg, watch out. The runway is shortened, and the Notams are vague.

Poorly written NOTAMs struck again this week in Hamburg, Germany, when an A320 and a B737 both overran Runway 05 on landing – the first by SAS on May 11  and the second by Ryanair on May 15.

Runway 05 in EDDH/Hamburg has been undergoing works and a litany of related NOTAMs and AIP SUP were issued to explain.

A1608/18 – RWY 05 LDA 2370M. 12 APR 04:00 2018 UNTIL 23 MAY 21:00 2018. CREATED: 05 APR 09:50 2018

A1605/18 – SHORTENED DECLARED DISTANCES FOR RWY 05/23. AIP SUP IFR 09/18 REFERS. 12 APR 04:00 2018 UNTIL 23 MAY 21:00 2018. CREATED: 05 APR 09:42 2018

A2223/18 – TWY A1, A3, A4, A5 CLOSED. 02 MAY 10:26 2018 UNTIL 01 JUL 04:00 2018. CREATED: 02 MAY 10:27 2018

A2044/18 – ILS RWY 05 NOT AVBL. AIP SUP IFR 09/18 REFERS. 23 APR 09:17 2018 UNTIL 23 MAY 21:00 2018. CREATED: 23 APR 09:17 2018


A1609/18 – RWY 23 CLOSED FOR ARR. 12 APR 04:00 2018 UNTIL 23 MAY 21:00 2018. CREATED: 05 APR 09:52 2018

Despite this, both were unable to stop before the last open exit (A6) and vacated further down the runway. Thankfully both resulted in no injury because all construction equipment was kept clear of, and beyond, taxiway E6.

A better NOTAM may have been:


You get the idea. Concise and plain language in one NOTAM to make it clear what the issue is and the consequences of going beyond 2370m of runway.

They did, to their credit, try and tidy it up since the incidents:


In another serious incident associated with these runway works, a Vueling A320 (another foreign operator) nearly landed at the wrong airport on May 11. Thankfully ATC intervened on that one.

All incidents are now the subject of investigation.

Naturally it’s imperative for crew and disptachers to check and read all NOTAMS thoroughly. But with over 40 current just for EDDH/Hamburg right now, it’s easy to understand why things get missed.

Until then “adjust landing performance accordingly”.

Extra Viewing:

FSB and OPSGROUP win bid to control 1.8 million km area of Pacific Airspace

Clipperton Oceanic starts operations today, and is the worlds newest piece of airspace.

This one is different though – the users are in charge.

Flight Service Bureau, together with OpsGroup, takes official control today of the Clipperton Flight Information Region (FIR) in the South Pacific, a 1.8 million square kilometre chunk of airspace west of the Galapagos Islands and north of Tahiti. The FIR has been unused since 1958, when the Clipperton Oceanic centre and radio service closed.

Announcing the news in an official Press ReleaseFrancois Renard, PM of the Clipperton Government said: “We are a little island but we are proud of our history in Pacific aviation. The years from 1937-1958, when Clipperton Oceanic was a name known to all passing aircraft, are looked back on fondly here. Now, we look forward – to a resumption of traffic on these once busy routes, and we are confident that FSB and OpsGroup are the key to making this happen”.

For the first time, regulations are set by the users. There is no requirement for PBCS, RNP, ADS-B, ADS-C, GNS, GNSS, HLA, MNPS, RLAT, RLON, SLOP, or any of the other exponentially increasing acronyms that operators struggle to keep up with. No LOA’s, no slots, no delays. And no ramp checks. There are no Notams. Although it is large, it’s a simple piece of airspace, and that allows for a simple approach.

Juergen Meyer, a Lufthansa A350 Captain, and a long standing OpsGroup member said: “We’ve seen enough. Ercan (the Cyprus based Turkish ATC centre) doesn’t officially exist, yet you have to call them every time. French Guyana seems to have abandoned their ATC centre. Several African countries have outsourced their entire Permit Department, meaning you have to pay extortionate amounts just to secure a routine overflight. Greece and Turkey continue to hijack the Notam system for a diplomatic war. CASA Australia, like many others, continues to publish absolutely unreadable Notams, endangering safety. Nobody dares to enter the Simferopol FIR. The French ATC service is on strike more often than they are not. Libya lies about the security risks at their airports. Egypt and Kenya refuse to publish safety information because it would harm their tourism.”

Jack Peterson, an Auckland based operator of 2 G550’s, said: “If all these agencies can exist with a poor service, then why not try something different? Clipperton puts the users in charge, and we get to decide whether any of these rules or procedures actually serve us. Now that we have our own airspace, we can make it safe and user-friendly rather than user-hostile. And the South Pacific is the perfect place to start.”

FSB have also banned Ramp Checks within the region, a practice where pilots are taken hostage by the local Civil Aviation Authority during routine flights, and held accountable for the mistakes of their company, not being released from the ordeal until they submit with a signature.

The Clipperton FIR has a chequered history. The island is named after a Pirate (John Clipperton). First activated in 1937, Clipperton Oceanic Radio provided a Flight Information and Weather service to trans-Pacific flights for 21 years, until it lost funding from a French-British-American government coalition in 1958.

In 1967, the Soviet Union attempted to takeover the airspace, offering to build several Surveillance Radars on the island. That was seen by the United Nations as a cover story, with their interest being more likely centred on having additional monitoring territory proximate to the US.

Since then, the Flight Information Region has remained dormant, appearing in most Flight Planning systems as “XX04”. Until the agreement with FSB, no service of any kind was provided.

The Clipperton FIR, still marked on the Skyvector chart as “XX04” (Click to expand)

The move has been seen by some observers as similar to the delegation of control of Kosovo airspace to Hungary in 2013, under a 5-year agreement that will likely be extended. Reinhard Kettu, newly appointed Oceanic Director, FSB, commented: “It’s not really the same thing. The Kosovo thing was just a delegation of Air Traffic Control, and at that, just for civil aircraft. Here, in Clipperton, FSB is taking full control of the aviation system. That will allow us to introduce an across-the-board user-first system.

On the Notam issue, FSB founder Mark Zee commented: “We’ve made things really simple here. Critical Notams, for the most part, tell us of a binary Yes/No for availability. Runway closed, ILS unavailable, Frequency u/s. It’s basically an On/Off switch, and the existing system handles that pretty well. When it comes to everything else, they fail, badly. So much rubbish about unlit towers, cranes, birds, and the rest. That makes up the noise. So, we’ve banned them in this new airspace, while we work on a better system. We will notify operators through the DCA of any withdrawn essential service or facility, for example if our HF is broken. Nothing else.”

Operationally, there are two new airways, UN351 and UN477, with 8 associated waypoints. HF is provided on the South Pacific MWARA Network, on the same frequencies as Auckland, Brisbane, Nadi, and Tahiti – 5643 and 8867 will be the primary ones.

Flight plans should be addressed to NPCXZQZX and NPCXZOZX. Although only HF is required to enter the airspace, CPDLC is provided and the AFN logon is NPCX. To begin, only a Flight Information Service is provided; no alerting, SAR, or Air Traffic Control service is part of the agreement. The rest is detailed in Clipperton AIC 03/18.

FSB and the Clipperton Government have also partnered with Thales and the KPA Military Construction Unit in a US$27 million agreement to build an entirely new Oceanic Control Centre on the Island, to be completed by 2021. “Until then, we will rely on HF and position reporting, but from 2021 we will be able to use space-based ADS-B”, said Mr. Kettu.

Clipperton Oceanic welcomes all. If you’re passing, say hello on HF. And if you’re planning to enter the airspace, make sure to read AIC03/18.

Media contacts:

Further Reading:

Fixing Notams – we’re on it. Help us.

OK. We’re done writing articles about it, and making goat jokes – we’ve moved the “Fixing Notams” job to the top of our list..

OpsGroup is all about information – getting the essential risks and changes that flight ops personnel need to know about into their hands without delay. Our group agrees – plenty of colourful comments on Notams from members.

Now we want your ideas and opinions on the fix.

Here’s our ask:

1. Rate the current system – and then click the things you would like to see.

2. If you’re in charge of a group of people – whether you are the Chief Pilot at Lufthansa, the Tower Chief in Shannon, or manage an Ops team of two – Get this out to your people and ensure everyone has their say.

Forward this to your team of ATCO’s, Pilots, Dispatchers:

We especially want to hear from pilots, controllers, and dispatchers, and if you read on, you’ll see why.

Do it like this:

  • Send them the survey link: https://fsb1.typeform.com/to/irZiFM
  • OR, click here for a magic pre-written email
  • OR, send them a link to flightservicebureau.org/notams
  • OR, share this facebook post:

The survey direct link is: https://fsb1.typeform.com/to/irZiFM

The Solution

If you took the survey, you saw this:

That part is pretty easy – presenting the Output of the system is a straightforward enough task.

The Input part – that’s where the real work is.

First, we are working on an Artificial Intelligence answer to finding Critical Notams in the current legacy system. This will allow us to present the data flow in order of what matters, and leave those cranes, birds, and grass cutters right at the bottom.


If you read my article on MH17 – a darker truth, you’ll understand why it’s important to open up the system to allow a trusted group to shape the information flow.

That begins with Pilots, Air Traffic Controllers, and Dispatchers. I have the great fortune to be all three, and it’s very clear to me that just like Trip Advisor – and our own “Airport Spy” in OpsGroup – this idea will work. We’ve already seen in OpsGroup how much we trust the information from other users in our group.

It’s key to the future trust of the Notam system. Which we should rename, but that’s another days work.

If you got this far, thank you for being part of the solution! You can always write me a note at mark@fsbureau.org


Here’s what pilots and controllers REALLY think about Notams

We think Notams suck. No other way to say it. After a few articles we wrote (BS Notams, The Notam Goat Show, and more worryingly, the MH17 Notam problem), we got some feedback in the comments section. And thought we should share, because they really show the problem. So, here they are.

Caution, some strong language!

We’re working on a solution, so you can help and add your thoughts as a comment below. Also, send us the really bad ones and enter the 2018 Notam Goat Show contest.


Personally I think taxiway and apron closure NOTAMs are too readable, I think they should be distributed in RADIAL/DME format, or perhaps raw Lat-Lon. Additionally, time should be specified in seconds since the founding of the FAA.

TAXIWAY CLOSED BETWEEN ORL180/08.5DME ORL181/08.6DME ORL181/08.65DME ORL180/08.65DME FROM 1829088020S to 1829190200S

What could be more clear than that?

I wonder if a buried Notam ever did contribute to bent metal, injury, or death? I agree that the volume of nuisance notams is a real task to read through wether it be a long or short turn. However, nothing will be done till there is blood. That’s how the FAA works. Till then, its on us to be like aviation lawyers before every flight regardless of schedule.

Maybe we can get them in binary?

You have to go to binary first, then convert to Morse.

01010100 01000001 01011000 01001001 01010111 01000001 01011001 00100000 01000011 01001100 01001111 01010011 01000101 01000100 00100000 01000010

—– .—- —– .—- —– .—- —– —– —– .—- —– —– —– —– —– .—- —– .—- —– .—- .—- —– —– —– —– .—- —– —– .—- —– —– .—- —– .—- —– .—- —– .—- .—- .—- —–

For good measure they should be put through an Enigma machine, too. And the output formatted to wingdings

Yes. The NOTAM system is fucked. We have Notams about those solar arrays near Vegas in every flight plan. Yes, I see them. I want to know if the damn runway is closed. Why the weird coding? Is it to make pilots feel multi-lingual?

It’s funny, they seem to have every little f*ing detail about towers that are under 400 agl 20 miles either side of my route with one light bulb missing but I can’t get a god damn reliable source for f*ing TFRs. Even the piece of shit FAA website for TFRs is not a “complete and accurate source” but some guy in a FSS station is?????? Such complete and utter bullshit.

The reason nobody reads NOTAMs is because they are mostly garbage.
Why do I care that a crane that is 200 feet AGL ten miles from any airport is unlit? We can’t fly below 500AGL anyway.
Why do I have to decipher code that can easily be written as: From 20170608 1900Z to 20170610 0000Z CYYZ Taxiway L Closed
The system is broken and nobody cares to fix it.

I f*in’ love doing a flight from Newark to DC and getting notams about the North Atlantic Tracks. Motherf***r, if I end up on the tracks during that leg in a 145, the Notams are the least of my damn problems.

The biggest frustration for me is the NOTAMs don’t match reality. KAUS often NOTAMs a runway closed for several hours a couple days each week. Yet we get there and it’s open.
Or an airport will NOTAM an ILS out of service for the day. Show up at the airport and they’re using that ILS.
My home airport is KDAL. One of the PAPIs was out for three days before they NOTAM’d it out of service. Delta landing in front of me asked about it. Tower said they showed it on and asked me. I said, “Uh… It’s been out for several days. I thought y’all knew?”
Finally, my favorite: Surprise runway closures for routine runway inspections. NOTAM? Nah. BTW there’s a 150′ tower 15 miles away with a light out and there’s birds around the airport. Awesome.

I can honestly say that if it isn’t a runway closure or terminal closure then I don’t really care. The amount of closed taxiways at every airport is absurd. Not to mention many of them are closed year round with no intention of opening them again, just a permanent NOTAM.

Can only agree. It has been raised at the RAPACs, but no progress to date.

If I’m 5nm from the ARP at 150′ AGL, then I have more things to worry about than a crane without a red light…

Ass-covering gone mad. Really… a tree

FROM 01 310536 TO 03 300500 EST

My personal favourite is the “trigger notam” cross-referencing to yet another unfindable / unreadable pile of nonsense.
Just tell us what matters to an “Airman”; today and leave the grand plan, 12 month projection crap out of NOTAMS.

All of this so true, I imagine a world of technology and wonder (ozrunways/avplan/anything but airservices/casa))where we can quickly read a Notam and weather briefing without having to nut it out and do a slow-ass flight plan every time. 2017 and we still cant embrace all the tech.

I totally agree. The last thing any crew is going to be able to do when checking NOTAMs before departure is to magic up a way to access cross-referenced documents in various other publications. Especially when the departure point is not anywhere near base ops, or even any other operations centre.

B.S. NOTAMS….100% concur. Our whole world of aviation is being swamped by similar legal ass-covering paperwork. How can ANY pilot be expected to remember all the additional codicils that do NOTHING to improve safety of flight, but rather give an army of lawyers and providers more chances to fleece an already cash-strapped industry?…..Rant over!

Congratulations, its our industry, the users should be heard.
Start with a blank sheet of paper, what do we want to know in a “NOTAM” and how best to communicate it in a cockpit / in a flight briefing package. If the current format was frozen in 1924, the next system needs to be good for a couple of years.

This information ceased to be “NOTAMs” long ago. Today they are “NOTOLs”, Notice To Litigants. Thanks for making an effort to change this ancient system.

How many pilots out there actually read ever Head Office Notams or even daily Notams in meticulous detail? Few (if any). You sign on an hour before departure, there is simply not enough time to divulge all the ass covering crap that’s generated daily. Airline companies only want one thing, OTP; how a pilot goes about that they couldn’t care less as long as you don’t break any rules! NOTAMS = “None Other Than Aircraft Missing Slots”

You can bet your life, the one you needed to see at 3 in the morning was the one you missed! Any wonder…

So, If you don’t tell me that, I will land recklessly..

You are a mind reader.
You captured the issue perfectly and the historical context was excellent. While airspace and aircraft have all continued to develop our most basic system of communicating the status of an airport/airspace has not. I could take that further and say communication with ATC is still by AFTN for the most part.So now put yourself in the position of dispatcher/FOO working a series of long haul ETOPS Flight. You might have 20 or more departure /Take off alternate station notams, a whole galaxy of FIR/UIR Notams, not to mention all of the ETOP alternates and if you re-dispatch/re-analysis, you will get to do it inflight once again. Now do that 15-20 times depending on workload. Can you say human data saturation?
This article certainly illustrates the infrastructure issues we face, but it doesn’t come close explaining some of the processes and procedures we have had to put in place to ensure:
1. That we actually get NOTAMS.
2. That we get airport conditions as some countries don’t put them out as Series-S ICAO NOTAM versus Series-A (Yes, theses are the countries that haven’t fully adopted ICAO standards which were adopted in 1944 and ratified in 1947 by the Chicago convention).
Question: What is the current year?

I absolutely agree. My personal bugbear is those lists of co-ordinates …. do they think anyone actually plots them on a map? They might as well not be published at all.

What is clear is the professional approach to the information received: too many inputs, disorderly given, contextually irrelevant, redundant and unusable. A kind of “cry wolf” syndrome, making the pilot complacent about such a bullshit. The very day someone of us is caught in a legal battle for a system-induced mistake leading to a incident, overlooking the NOTAMs will not appear as an excuse. How to make these information valuable?

Yes… and why oh why are we still using the coded TAF language. We don’t have bandwidth issues anymore. We take plain English, code it, then decode it back to plain English. Surely a TAF written in plain English is not too hard a transition.

We train the pilots of tomorrow, they are inundated with everything the industry throws at them and the unintelligible Nonsense contained in some NOTAMS are just another accident waiting to happen. With all the technology at our disposal today, the filtering systems, electronics messages systems, integration tools and smart people to think about it, there is a solution out there. I suppose we just need to make enough noise in the right places to make a change. Oh well best we get started. hmmm, perhaps a NOTAM about change is needed.

And don’t forget about TFR’s that pop up. The one time I didn’t look at TFRs I got trapped having to divert from Chicago to an outlying airport even though we were part135 and even though we got an IFR clearance and the tower gave us takeoff permission. And center control for an hour just kept passing us on.

How about a change in the format of NOTAMS too, so we don’t have to wade through the whole lot in order to parse the relevant information. NOTAMS are removed when thy are no longer valid, so why cling to chronological order as an indexing system. How about putting them in order of critical relevance: Firstly, changes to airfield opening hours and services (fire, fuel etc). Secondly, changes to runway lengths/closures/etc. Thirdly, changes to approaches available. All the rest can be thrown into the mix at the end of the NOTAM.

Excellent analysis. My personal favorite is the NOTAM sort order which tells me that the REIL lights don’t work, the glideslope is out, the runway markings are non-standard, the localizer is out… ending with: runway closed. Tell me that first, all the other BS becomes irrelevant.

About two days before I saw this post, I’d sent a long email to my company telling them of the NOTAMs we don’t need to see. Then I saw this. Brilliant! I’ve just sent the link to this piece to the company to reinforce that opinion. I’m hoping our briefing pack will be several pages thinner the next time I go to dispatch.

I have come up with a name for this problem: “NOTAM Spam”. It’s a serious one, alright — ASRS Callback #426 brought it up in the context of the US NAS, and I’m sure it’s only worse for international operations. It sounds like ICAO needs to put out a recommendation or SARP about NOTAM spam control…

95% of Notam’s we read are not applicable, or nothing can be done about them. Oh great, I’ll pull out my chart and plot the 25 co-ordinates to see if this airspace will affect my flight -_- that’s one Notam example from plenty of the same type, in the same Notam briefing. Now add the other irrelevant Notam types as mentioned by others in the comments.

Thanks for the article. I shared it with my fellow dispatchers at AAL. We read pages and pages of BS notams on a daily basis and wondered if anyone else had similar feelings about the whole process.


Post your thoughts below! 

The NOTAM Goat Show 2018

We’re on the hunt for prize Notams. 

In every definition of a Notam that exists, including the ICAO one, it includes these words: “the timely knowledge of which is essential“. Unfortunately, many Notam-creators’ sense of the essential shows a clear failure to understand the term . This is CNN’s version of fake news at it’s worst.

Now, we recently found one that listed peak goat-grazing times near the airport, so we thought we’d run a NOTAM Goat Show. And there will be prizes. We’re looking for the worst: the most irrelevant, the most useless, the most boring, the most unreadable. All those crappy Notams that are part of the 100 page print out you get in your flight briefing.

Send us your worst! goatams@fsbureau.org

There will be prizes, and as fun as all this is, you actually are helping to solve the problem of Bullshit Notams. We’re working on it.


The problem of Bullshit Notams


This article created a firestorm of engagement – several hundred emails and 127,000 people that visited the blog. Most of it was overwhelmingly positive. Some of it wasn’t. Please read my follow up in response.


It’s absolutely ridiculous

We communicate the most critical flight information, using a system invented in 1920, with a format unchanged since 1924, burying essential information that will lose a pilot their job, an airline their aircraft, and passengers their lives, in a mountain of unreadable, irrelevant bullshit.

Yes CASA Australia, that’s you. Yes, Greek CAA, that’s you. And you’re not alone.

In an unintended twist of irony, the agencies seeking to cover their legal ass are party to creating the most criminal of systems – an unending flow of aeronautical sewage rendering the critical few pieces of information unfindable.

This is more than just hugely frustrating for each pilot, dispatcher, and controller that has to parse through it all; it’s downright dangerous.

If you’re a pilot, you’ll either have already experienced this, or you’re going to – you stuff something up, and then be told: “but there was a Notam out about that”. Sure enough, there it is in black and white (and in big capital letters). Do you think that “but there were 100 pages of them” is going to be a valid defence?


Well, it should be. The same agency conducting your post-incident interview is busy on the other end stuffing the system full of the garbage that prevented you from seeing it in the first place.

There are three parts to the problem: the system, the format, and the content. The system is actually quite amazing. The AFTN network connects every country in the world, and Notam information once added is immediately available to every user. Coupled with the internet, delivery is immediate.

The format is, at best, forgivable. It’s pretty awful. It’s a trip back in time to when Notams were introduced. You might think that was the 1960’s, or the 50’s. In fact, it’s 1924, when 5-bit ITA2 was introduced. The world shifted to ASCII in 1963, bringing the Upper and Lower case format that every QWERTY keyboard uses today, but we didn’t follow – nope, we’ll stick with our 1924 format, thank you.

Read that again. 1924. Back then, upper case code-infested aeronautical messages would have seemed impressive and almost reassuring in their aloofness. But there weren’t in excess of 1 million Notams per year, a milestone we passed in 2013. The 1 million milestone is remarkable in itself, but here’s something else amazing: in 2006, there were only 500,000. So in seven years, Notams doubled. Why? Are there twice as many airports in the world? No. Twice as many changes and updates? Possibly. But far more likely: the operating agencies became twice as scared about leaving things out.

And so onto the culprit: the content. The core definition of a Notam is ESSENTIAL flight information. Essential, for anyone tasked with entering information into the Notam System, is defined as “absolutely necessary; extremely important”. Here’s a game you can play at home. Take your 100 page printout of Notams, and circle that ones that you think can be defined as essential. See how many fit that bill.

So why is all this garbage in the system? Because the questions that the creators of Notams ask are flawed. The conversation goes like this:

– “Should we stick this into a Notam?”
– “Yeah, we’d better, just in case”.

How many are actually asking, “Is this essential information that aircrew need to know about ?”. Almost none. Many ‘solutions’ to the Notam deluge involve better filtering, Q codes, and smart regex’s. This overlooks the core problem. It’s not what comes out that needs to be fixed, it’s what goes in.

Even in 1921, we had much the same problem. Obstacle, 18 feet high, several miles from the runway.

Nobody cares. Unless you’ve parked the Eiffel Tower on the threshold, leave this stuff for the AIP. And nobody cares about kites either. Nor about goat-grazing times. We don’t care if your bird scarer is U/S. We don’t care if there’s a cherry-picker fixing a bulb somewhere. We don’t care when you’re cutting your grass.

Nor do we care about closed taxiways. The only way I can get onto a taxiway is with an ATC clearance, and ATC will not clear me onto a closed taxiway.

We care if the airport is going to be closed when we get there. If we’re going to have to divert because the runway is shut. If someone might shoot at us. If there are new rules. We care about the critical items, but we won’t see them as things stand.

And so, about here is where a normal editorial piece might end with “we hope that the authorities improve the system”, and sign off.


But not here.

We’re in the business of doing things here at FSB, not just talking about them.

Last year we wrote a few pieces about the Greece vs Turkey Notam battle. This month we did a group look at Briefing Packages, and it was astonishing to see how many pages of this diplomatic drivel still appeared in all our members’ Briefings. All in all, on average 3 full pages of every briefing for a flight overflying Greece or Turkey contained this stuff.

So, we sent Greece a polite AFTN message on behalf of all of us.

That’s just one piece of a thousand-piece puzzle, and it would be nice to think that one piece at a time we could fix the sytem. Let’s get real. It’s a monster, and it’s out of control.

We don’t think that we can fix the Notam system.

But, we can think about a different solution. And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now in OpsGroup. With almost 2000 members, we can make a difference. Watch this space. Or, if you want to help take action, send your thoughts to goatams@ops.group.




Venezuela NOTAMs, where have you gone?

Last year, Venezuela partly stopped sending out Metars.

This year, they’ve gone one better, and stopped sending out NOTAMs entirely.

Anything with an SV** in front of it shouldn’t be high on your tech stop list at the moment, but for those that do need to operate to an airport in the country, or carry it as an alternate, this is definitely a problem.

How are you handling the outage? Comment below.



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