FDC Notams: A Survival Guide
A special supplement to Dick Coffey's article "The Five-Minute Brief," which first appeared in IFR Magazine and can now be found here on AVweb.
Even when it's working correctly, the FAA's notam dissemination is seriously deficient when it comes to FDC or flight data center notams. These relate to regulatory and airspace notifications and, most important, approach procedures and airways.
You may have the patience of a Talmudic scholar and Bill Clinton's eye for twisted detail but you'll still miss many FDC notams. It's hard enough to catch all the important D-notams. Fortunately, it usually doesn't matter but that doesn't mean you can always ignore the FDCs.
How to get them? Not from FSS, if you can avoid it. Even a complete standard briefing will gloss over them, by necessity. The typical FDC list is long and the briefer generally has no idea what you have and what you don't have.
DUAT is a better source. A recent DUAT briefing we obtained for a flight from Boston to Washington turned up 93 FDC notams; far too many for an FSS specialist to sort through. Don't forget, also, that this list doesn't include the FDCs found in the bi-weekly Notices to Airman paper bulletin. (Yup, that's the one you're supposed to subscribe to but nobody does. Like we said, the system is broken.)
Scanning our DUAT list, fully a third canceled previously issued notams which, to be honest, most pilots wouldn't have read in the first place.
Many others relate to either minor changes in airways, flyspeck errors on approach plates, remote altimeter setting requirements and so on. One changed a runway elevation from 14 feet to 15 feet. Boy, are we glad to know about that.
Obviously, stuff like this is just so much noise. Most airway changes are rendered moot by the ever-present availability of radar; the same goes for minor tweaks in non-radar transition data, a favorite FDC topic. Somehow, we always seem to muddle through changed frequencies, as well, although those notices are usually in the FDCs, too.
So what is important in FDC notams? Withdrawal of approaches and major corrections in published minimums-those are neither rare nor common.
With GPS approaches coming and overlays and conventional approaches going, the FDCs are alive with dynamic changes to the airspace system. It could be embarassing to arrive somewhere planning on flying an approach that doesn't exist anymore.
The major FDC gotcha is temporary flight restrictions. These tend to pop up on short notice like weeds after a spring rain.
The critical concern here is not IFR flight, which will automatically avoid TFRs, but an innocent, spur-of-the-moment VFR trip that barges through an unknown TFR area.
These are often low-altitude restrictions poorly defined by VOR radials or lat/longs. Busting one without realizing it would be a cinch. (Probably the single best argument for retaining small N-numbers, to be perfectly cynical.)
Without miring yourself down in worry and wasted time, the best you can do with FDC notams is print out the list and scan it quickly for ones that apply to your departure and destination. (Generally, the en route FDCs are less critical unless they describe critical MEAs in mountainous areas or the like.)
And if you forget to review the FDCs? Chances are slim that it'll be a problem. Then again, a common plea after an accident or violation is, "I just didn't know." That said, far from us to preach about checking the FDCs. We'll let you set your own level of obsession on this one.