NOTAMs: At Least Pretend You Care

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Last week's story on Senator James Inhofe's encounter with a closed runway generated quite a bit of mail, including one note from a reader asking why I hadn't commented on it in this blog. Shouldn't the senator be reminded, he asked, that most of us do indeed check NOTAMs before every flight? Okay, consider him reminded.

I was discussing this with a friend over the weekend who informed me that not only did he not check NOTAMs before every flight, he didn't think he knew any pilots who did. What continues to amaze me about this pilot thing is how many different universes seem to exist. In the crowd I run in, I would say most pilots do check the NOTAMs file before departing, even for a local flight. Here in Florida, where a weather briefing is superfluous, NOTAMs are the only thing I check. I do that every time I fly.

I'm sure I've missed a time or two, but not by intent. I nearly blundered into a presidential TFR when George Bush was down here campaigning in 2004. I had been flying short flights all week collecting some data for vacuum pump trials. On the third or fourth day, I got to the hangar, preflighted and was ready to launch on a perfectly clear day when I realized I hadn't briefed. I almost blew it off, but decided to just do a quick NOTAMs and TFR check. Good thing. There was a Presidential TFR a few miles south of the airport and I'd have flown right into it.

For me, NOTAMs checks are more for appearances than actual safety. As Inhofe actually did, I don't want to fly into a closed airport or runway without knowing about it in advance. The information is easily available and to me, it's indefensibly irresponsible not to get it before you discover it by surprise. When that happens and it escalates into construction workers scurrying for cover as you attempt to land, it makes us all look like morons. Then to excuse it by saying no one checks NOTAMs just makes it worse.

Senator Inhofe, a pilot of long experience, has been a true friend to general aviation. Anyone can make a mistake and he apparently did. If something like this ever happens to you, the ready response should be, "I checked NOTAMs. I must have missed it." Whether you did or you didn't will be your little secret. But whatever you share with the world should make you sound like you have a brain. We'll all be the better for it.

Comments (30)

"Anyone can make a mistake and he apparently did."

No sympathy from me! Senator Inhofe did not make an accidental mistake - he freely and publically admitted to a habit of NOT checking NOTAMS! Of course, you or I would be thrown under the plane by the FAA for doing what he did and then bragging about it! He's a senator and obviously has no fear of the FAA. In my opinion, he's the poster-child for the arrogance of Washington that makes "professional" politicians feel entitled and not having to play be the rules like "ordinary people." Time for term limits!

Posted by: John Austin | November 15, 2010 7:07 AM    Report this comment

"Anyone can make a mistake and he apparently did."

Surely you are joking ! A mistake?

- Did not check NOTAMS; - ignored yellow X's; - ignored men and equipment on runway; - stated he realized "too late to safely abort landing"; - took off on a parallel taxiway; - implied he was too busy to bother with such mundane issues.

I cannot imagine the depth of trouble for an ordinary pilot in his situation.

Posted by: Kim Welch | November 15, 2010 7:14 AM    Report this comment

enator Inhofe ignored the NOTAM system, knowing if there was a problem his political pull could get him out of it. The FAA should be going after him with a vengance.

I nearly always go IFR on anything but a local flight and almost always check NOTAMs. But there are so many NOTAMs that are a waste of time(tower light out 12 miles from the airport at 200agl) that you can miss the few important ones. The NOTAM system must be fixed, maybe this incident will be the impetus.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | November 15, 2010 8:01 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Roy. There's no reason the NOTAMs couldn't be put out in human-readable form (like what I get from a briefer) and prioritized.

Posted by: Brad Koehn | November 15, 2010 8:10 AM    Report this comment

If the FAA doesn't treat Sen Inhofe like any other pilot, how can they EVER discipline anyone again? He has admitted to several blatant violations. While I agree the NOTAM delivery system can be improved, there is no excuse for what he did - or his attitude.

Posted by: gary bishop | November 15, 2010 8:22 AM    Report this comment

I agree with all the above (below?). I would be violated if I did the same thing. Yes, make the NOTAMS understandable.

Posted by: Ron Lee | November 15, 2010 8:31 AM    Report this comment

Ah, yes, the unmistakeable stink of entitlement. The rules are only meant for the great unwashed who are not as smart/experienced/important as I am! That can certainly be a BIG hazzard in the cockpit, but it seems to be one of the things the FAA is most likely to ignore/puxh under the rug.

Being an instructor in jets, I have occassionally run into this attitude among those with high net worth/important jobs. It's scary because it's pretty much uncureable. I'm aware of one pilot who believes that the 250 KIAS speed limit does not apply to his/her operations. He's/She's almost always above 250 and sometimes in the 300s as low as 6000 feet, but as far as I know, this person has never gotten a "ticket."

This type of attitude hurts all general aviation. Not only is it one of the most deadly attitudes to carry, it's almost always highly hazzardous to innocent folks. The public can now sit back and say, "See, those rich folks with airplanes are dangerous and they shouldn't be allowed to fly." Unfortunately that atttitude is true as to the offender, but we'll all get painted with the same brush.

Linda

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | November 15, 2010 8:33 AM    Report this comment

I fly in the North East. I can't imagine not checking NOTAMS. TFRs, Parachute jumping exercises and active MOAs are everywhere. I am appalled at Senator Inhofe's practice and attitude. What else is he not checking?

Posted by: William Pisarello | November 15, 2010 9:04 AM    Report this comment

Maybe I can see not checking notams if local flight, but landing on a closed runway with people working on it,then taking off on a taxiway? Publicly saying its no big deal? UH-UH, bad boy!

Posted by: charles heathco | November 15, 2010 9:21 AM    Report this comment

"If something like this ever happens to you, the ready response should be, "I checked NOTAMs. I must have missed it." Whether you did or you didn't will be your little secret. "

Interesting comment, you seem to imply (conciously or not) that the main reason to check NOTAMs is the potential for bad PR later.

Oddly, I kind of agree (well, a little anyway). I don't think the majority of NOTAMs strongly affect safety and are primarily CYA for someone's bureaucracy.

Yet another indication of the problems with the NOTAM system.

Posted by: Jon Carlson | November 15, 2010 10:24 AM    Report this comment

Kim Welch is right. Sen. Inhofe deliberately ignored safe operating practices and then just blew it off when the result was landing on a closed runway. He then compounded his violation by taking off from a taxiway. It's clear his attitude is that he's above the rules all the rest of us operate within. He gives conscientious pilots everywhere a bad name. I hope that the FAA revokes his license.

Posted by: Christine Pulliam | November 15, 2010 10:35 AM    Report this comment

What disturbed me the most was this line from the original story "TulsaWorld.com reports that Inhofe said he was unaware of the runway's closure NOTAM because of "a bad relationship he has with one individual, who the Senator said declined to take his phone calls before the flight and did not tell him about the NOTAM." So not only does he blow off checking NOTAMs, he blames it on someone else. I guess we need to change FAR 91.3 to exempt sitting senators from that whole "final responsibility" thing.

Posted by: Chris McLellan | November 15, 2010 10:44 AM    Report this comment

Given the regulation below, it would appear that airman Inhofe may be in need of a bit of remedial instruction:

§ 91.103 Preflight action.

Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. This information must include—

(a) For a flight under IFR or a flight not in the vicinity of an airport, weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements, alternatives available if the planned flight cannot be completed, and any known traffic delays of which the pilot in command has been advised by ATC;

(b) For any flight, runway lengths at airports of intended use, and the following takeoff and landing distance information: ...

Posted by: Pat Tighe | November 15, 2010 10:44 AM    Report this comment

There is a solution for those wanting plain English notams. It's called Weathermeister.com. The creator of the site told me that like 90% of the code for the briefings is dedicated to translating notams. Runway and other critical closures are even color coded in red for additional visibility.

Posted by: Ron Rapp | November 15, 2010 10:45 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps(said with tongue in cheek), someone should take the Senator " who has been such a good friend to general aviation" aside and quietly discuss this issue. Sometimes the ego gets in the way of an apology for misdeeds.

Posted by: Charles Plumery | November 15, 2010 10:47 AM    Report this comment

To my mind, Senator Inhofe's failure to check NOTAMS is a relatively trivial aspect of this story. If the airport had failed to NOTAM the runway closure, would it have been any safer or any more acceptable to have endangered the lives of construction workers by landing on a runway with marked with big X's? No. Would it have been any better if he had checked the NOTAM and landed anyway? No. What kind of judgment does it demonstrate to blow all that off and land "well off to the side" of a closed runway or take-off on a parallel taxiway? If Senator Inhofe genuinely thought it was safer for him, this passengers and the construction workers to land rather than execute a go-around with flaps down, then at the very least he needs some remedial instruction and a check ride.

Posted by: Bob Davison | November 15, 2010 10:57 AM    Report this comment

It's not a FAR violation to land or takeoff on a closed runway. Personally, I've done it. The violation comes from the "careless and reckless" aspect of the operation if you don't take steps to mitigate the risk to others.

Sometimes you can do that, sometimes not. If the runway is populated by a construction crew, it's problematical. But the first step in this process is know what the NOTAMs say, then take if from there.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 15, 2010 11:05 AM    Report this comment

A Senator (with all due respect) is an idiot. Worse than that he's an unapologetic idiot that thinks he's more important than the law or the safety of anyone else. He has no shame in landing at closed airports and having people "in his way".

I would hope that the FAA would pull his certificate for such an obvious disregard for regulations and passenger safety.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 15, 2010 11:05 AM    Report this comment

You can bet your tailfeathers that nothing will be done. Your local FSDO guy who pursues this will end up doing arctic duck wing inspections in Siberia for the rest of his career. Count on it. Nothing will be done.

Posted by: Willie Sinsel | November 15, 2010 11:21 AM    Report this comment

OK, as usual I learned something from AvWeb. But the bottom line for me is that the error in judgment was less the failure to check NOTAMS and more the willingness to scatter runway workers because you're determined to use that runway or airport no matter what.

Posted by: Bob Davison | November 15, 2010 11:24 AM    Report this comment

All this discussion about the senator's indisputable arrogance and idotic comments distracts from the underlying and perhaps bigger issue: In this day and age of modern database and network technology, why does checking notams have to be such a royal pain? Check them through DUATS? I think not. It really is unrealistic for most of us to wade thorugh pages and pages of irrelavent gibberish -- cryptically coded to accommodate teletype bandwidth. Even if I get my own weather weather, I always just end up calling FS for notams. Even then, it can be quite a challenge to stay awake while the briefer drones on about closed taxiways and unlit towers (for a day-VFR flight). I've got 31" bushwheels; I don't need no stinkin taxiway. ;>) At least I can give the briefer some reasonable filter criteria. However, using valuable humans as database filters is not an efficient use of anyone's resources. Why can't we just log into the FS system (or a firewalled mirror of it), set filter criteria, and get a concise list of relevant notams in plain English?

This is the core of truth in Senator Inhofe's ill-advised rant. His frustrations are real, but then why hasn't he used his unique and powerful position to address this with the FAA? He could do some real good here (and save our tax dollars in the process), but having him as the spokesperson for this issue is akin to having Jack Kevorkian be the advocate for the rights of the terminally ill.

Posted by: Lou Nathanson | November 15, 2010 11:48 AM    Report this comment

You can get plain English NOTAMs through DUATS. However, you have to learn how to bypass reading the unlit towers and the ones that are two states away, which discourages some people from checking notams. fltplan.com does a pretty good job of organizing the NOTAMs but not in plain English.

That said, this thread is about his actions and attitudes, not the inconvenience of reading unnecessary NOTAMs. Will he stand up and accept responsibility for his actions? Besides, doesn't he have staff that could be shown how to get NOTAMs, briefings, etc and filter for him?

Posted by: gary bishop | November 15, 2010 12:04 PM    Report this comment

Landing on a runway you SEE is closed (but admittedly have no idea why it was closed) is "reckless and dangerous". This SHOULD be an automatic suspension.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 15, 2010 12:43 PM    Report this comment

Maybe the Senator from Oklahoma gets caught up in the ways of Washington which seems to be do what is best for you then if you get caught either lie about it or blame someone else.

When going on a cross country I get a FSS briefing and pay attention to things like closed runways and tell the briefer I would also like the major NOTAMS along the route of flight. For over fifty years it has worked for me. Inhof comes to our airport occasionally (during reelection) and he seems to be a bit on the over confident side.

Posted by: Everett Childers | November 15, 2010 4:56 PM    Report this comment

"I checked NOTAMs. I must have missed it."

Fine with me, wise and harmless. But, unlike my neighbor's bumper sticker 'old guys rule', Inhofe showed power rules. And evidently blocks out wisdom.

Posted by: Dave Miller | November 15, 2010 5:16 PM    Report this comment

Hardly a "true friend to general aviation" running around like that in a twin Cessna.

Posted by: Larry Anglisano | November 16, 2010 5:44 AM    Report this comment

Someone should check whether Sen. Ihhofe has a current 3rd class medical. He couldn't have passed the vision test if he missed the X's and vehicles on the runway prior to short final.

Posted by: Jean-Francois Reat | November 16, 2010 8:53 AM    Report this comment

Inhof is his own worst enemy and I am truly ashamed for him. His wreckless attitude isn't something to condone, but rather to spurn. We should be willing to censure one of our own for such a flagrant and wreckless disregard for the rules. Had he killed or injured one of the runway workers then how would his ill spoken comments have been received? How much more should a Senator be able to get away with before he has to suffer the consequences for his actions. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Posted by: John Dent | November 17, 2010 10:21 AM    Report this comment

Easiest answer I have on this is a little iphone application called FILE. You can file a flight plan right on your iphone, then it emails you the same information (including NOTAMS) that the briefer READS to you. Super nice! You have it all available for reference before, during and after your flight. Even the unlit tower information! :)

Posted by: J.B. Hillard | November 23, 2010 12:56 PM    Report this comment

Posted by Paul Bertorelli on November 15, 2010: "It's not a FAR violation to land or takeoff on a closed runway."

It is, however, a violation of § 91.103 to fail to become familiar with _ALL_ information concerning a flight. Failure to check NOTAMS would appear to intentionally disregard obtaining _ALL_ information. At least, that is what I would expect a FSDO Inspector to find.

§ 91.103 Preflight action.

Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.

Posted by: Pat Tighe | December 11, 2010 9:36 AM    Report this comment

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