FAA Clarifies Function, Purpose Of NOTAMs


The FAA has issued new guidance to airports on issuing NOTAMs it says is intended to help pilots navigate them easier and more accurately. The Advisory Circular was issued on May 25 but the agency publicized it over the weekend. The overall intent appears to be to clean up all the expired, inaccurate and confusing NOTAMs clogging the system and ensuring those that do get published serve the intended purpose. “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),” the AC says.

The AC clarifies the purpose of NOTAMs, which is “providing timely information on unanticipated or temporary changes to components of, or hazards in, the National Airspace System (NAS).” It stresses that NOTAMs are not a clearinghouse for housekeeping items or to serve any other purpose beyond the broad pursuit of flight safety. “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.” One of the big problems is that airports neglect to take down NOTAMs that no longer apply or have been superseded and Flight Service Stations will be calling around about the “validity of NOTAMs lingering in the NOTAM system.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Instead of focusing on the “what-do-we-call-NOTAMs” nonsense, how about talking about why Robert Sumwalt (former NTSB chairman) said “That’s what NOTAMs are. They are just a bunch of garbage that nobody pays any attention to”? He was speaking in reference to the Air Canada near-disaster at SFO, where the pilots almost landed on a parallel taxiway instead of a runway.

    John King wrote an excellent article about NOTAMs and how he thinks they need to be fixed: https://www.flyingmag.com/why-notams-are-garbage/. I won’t go into details from it, except to say that he’s especially right about one thing…there are too many NOTAMs and the NOTAM system doesn’t give visibility or clarity to the critical ones. He highlights the fact that the Air Canada pilots missed a critical NOTAM (Runway 28L closed) because it was buried on Page 9 of 28 (TWENTY-EIGHT) pages of NOTAMs.

    For months, FAA has been pushing airports to get rid of NOTAMs that were no longer valid (especially PERM – “Permanent” NOTAMs, there were a lot of them out there). That’s just a band-aid, the problems that Sumwalt and John King won’t be fixed until FAA overhauls the NOTAM system.

  2. Sad that the very first comment on this article was a political diatribe that had absolutely nothing to do with the article.

    Regarding the actual content of the article, I hope this move actually does help clean up a lot of the garbage that is floating around in the NOTAM system. Next, they should work on fixing the equally-broken TFR system.

    • The very first response addresses exactly the issue we are presented with. Those 14-odd other “updates” to the NOTAM system is akin to what journalists call “burying the lead.” The “lead story” is reconfiguring the NOTAM nomenclature to satiate and quell the political winds.

      You’ve been around aviation and AvWeb as least as long as I have, so frankly, you should know where all this is headed. You should know that the existing NOTAM system is a vestige of WW-2 communications, when data transmission used acronyms to compress the message. You should know that the advances of computer technology today should lend itself to the elimination of text messages entirely, and begin using audio-visual messaging.

      Call it a “diatribe” as you must, but I stand by my original submission.

  3. Surely, any attempt to make NOTAMS more useful would start by DITCHING THE USE OF ALL CAPS AND NDLSS ABRVNTNS, holdovers from the era of teletype and wet fax machines.

    • My thoughts exactly. If one doesn’t have to translate, they are less likely to miss key info. There’s no point in the current format any longer is there?

  4. As P.D. alluded to, the big change (#1 of 14) in the AC (72 Pages) is the definition of NOTAMs.
    It is now Notice to Air Missions (not Notices or Mission, but Notice and Missions) and no longer Notices to Airman!

    Don’t get caught defining NOTAM’s improperly or demerits will somehow be issued I’m guessing!

    • May I suggest, #1 was the ONLY reason changes were made to the underlying nomenclature of NOTAMs. And it appears that the sole difference between my (removed) submission and yours was my use of the apparently “radioactive” term “pr_de” … filling the underscore with the letter “i” of course (to confound the censoring algorithms.)

      “… censorship is the new book-burning.”

  5. Does anyone else see the irony of the “NOTAM EXPLAINED” graphic at the head of the article?

    Take away the “explanations”, and try reading the NOTAM in its broadcast form–not a lot of useful information there.

    As explained in the article, NOTAMS format is a holdover from the old teletype days. Why not just say it in English–or in chart form? In the example–the entire point of the NOTAM is simply listed as “OID90 Activated”–without telling WHAT the purpose and use of OID90 is and how it may affect your flight. No “news you can use” THERE!

    Is it any wonder why the information to be disseminated in NOTAMS is so often not used today?

      • Totally agree, YARS. In the third decade of the 21st century, why is the FAA still disseminating information with a 70+ year old communication system? If the chart at the top of the article is any indication, their “solution” will only perpetuate an obsolete system rather than actually solving the problem.

        • Probably for the same reason that a lot of the business world is actually run by 70+ year old programming: standard processes were designed around the old technology and all the people who originally designed it are gone so no one really knows how it all works together and are afraid to introduce any new changes for fear of breaking things.

          Fortunately, the likes of Garmin/ForeFlight/FltPlan all offer “plain text” translations of the NOTAMs, and more recently, even graphical depictions of them. At least the effort to eliminate the useless NOTAMs will help. More could (and should) be done, but it’s a start.

          • Wait, you may have solved why there’s no change. The companies that sell translation services are likely lobbying and promising jobs to keep the messages going out in code. 🤣😂🤣😂

  6. Hopefully this will also address the problem of airport/airway managements who think that simply publishing a NOTAM about a deficiency, hazard or malfunction relieves them of any responsibility to actually correct the condition.

  7. It’s not just airport management–it’s the funding system–local/state/federal. Airport improvements and “fixits” usually require an update of the Airport Layout Plan. That can take years of “studies, and only THEN is the airport eligible for funding. In the meantime, airport engineering firms milk the system for all it’s worth–making even a simple fix VERY expensive. In the meantime, because the problem has been identified by still EXISTS, airports file the NOTAM–protecting the user, as well as themselves. THAT is often the reason that you see NOTAMS that are years old–or that have an expected expiration date 2 years away. At the airport I manage, we are 3 years into “developing a budgeting plan for the next 10 years”–because the “airport engineers” failed to consider the issues they approved on the LAST plan.

    The FAA is the perfect example of government waste and ineptitude–is there any WONDER that most pilots are not advocates of big government?

  8. I would have thought someone would have made an automatic NOTAM decoder by now. If you go to fltplan.com, they have plain-text options for METARs and TAFs, but not NOTAMs. I found no Android app for this. A web search reveals two online converters but they don’t do a very good job.

  9. Grumpy old guy comment warning!

    1. This is a long-term result of Flight Service consolidation and eventual contracting. At one time the FSS Specialists knew their area and the people. Jurisdiction crossed state and regional lines, a local person knew what was going on. An airport manager could actually walk into a station and talk to the specialists on-duty. The specialists could, in some cases, look out the window and see if a runway was closed, construction in progress, or whatever. As the system got smaller, attention to detail was lost.

    2. As a Terminal Frontline Manager (Tower Supervisor) fighting with FSS, the Service Areas, and OKC was nearly a daily event. Getting information updated or corrected in publications shouldn’t be the battle of red tape that it is. In one case, my facility had an FDC NOTAM amending an ILS approach. After numerous phone calls, faxes, and emails OKC finally agreed it would be better to publish an updated plate. I wish this was a joke, but it isn’t…they then told me because of publication cycles it would still take almost 1 year to get the new plate published!

    3. Like every other piece of paper the government curses us with, each page has at least one lawsuit attached to it. Do we really need a NOTAM telling us a tower light, 30mi east of XYZ, at 125ft AGL is out of service? According to the lawyers, the answer is yes.

    4. And I’ll make this my last…promise. Sometimes people just fail to use their brains. Again, in the process of trying to get information corrected and updated, OKC decided to quickly publish information about 2 NAVAIDs at the facility where I worked. Oh, the only problem, both NAVAIDs were decommissioned before I started working there, and at the time I was in my 20th year at the tower. Oh, we made a mistake. And yes, they published NOTAMs showing the NAVAIDS and decommissioned and quickly pushed through a publication change…9 months later.

    • Now you’re talking, the real problem with notams, basically a disorganized shambles intruded upon by legal.
      If these were parts manuals and service instructions so organized, we’d all be sitting on the ground. Oh and then there’s Form 337 there’s another chuckle.
      As far as plain text being a problem who needs a weather report in Englese, extra verbage for no apparent reason. Do some fly with a handicap card hanging from the compass.

  10. “It is now Notice to Air Missions (not Notices or Mission, but Notice and Missions) and no longer Notices to Airman!” because in the quest for equal rights, they neutered the airmen? Now we’re all missionaries? I gotta get a flathat and bend in a 25-mission crush? 🙂