ICAO Updates Effort To Clean Up NOTAM ‘Garbage’


“(NOTAMs) are just a bunch of garbage that nobody pays any attention to,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt during the 2018 hearing on the infamous Air Canada incident, in which pilots missed a critical piece of information. Unnoticed on page eight of a 27-page briefing package was the fact that one of the destination airport’s two runways was closed.

The pilots chose the wrong reference point and lined up to land on a taxiway, narrowly missing four waiting aircraft before aborting the landing.

Even before that incident, critics had cited data overload in NOTAMs as a safety hazard. That finally resulted in an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)-led effort to restructure the system.

Its first step is to purge outdated NOTAMs. According to ICAO, a fifth of some 36,000 active notices are still on file beyond the prescribed 90-day expiration period.

Next, ICAO proposes prioritizing critical warnings at the top of the crew’s briefing package and enabling airline dispatch departments to eliminate those that do not affect the flight.

Finally, the organization suggests updating the format of NOTAMs to make them more reader-friendly. Australian Federation of Air Pilots Safety and Technical Director Stuart Beveridge said, “So, we’ve actually suggested they move into the 21st century and look at upper and lower case, punctuation, plain standardized language, and time formats that are not just strings of numbers.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. This is far overdue, but it’s sad that it has to come from ICAO. Just more evidence that the FAA is too caught up in its own beauracracy to bother making real changes.

    • Negative, it was never initiated by ICAO. Credit goes to Opsgroup. Most likely GA pilots would not be familiar with them but the corporate world is. A team of corporate pilots, controllers and other parties interested in what goes REALLY on around the world. Instead of relying on “official sources” for worldwide aviation information, this is sort of a PIREP group keeping each other informed. Highly effective.

    • Brought on by the MH17 shootdown in 2017. That crew was not able to decipher the buried warning message of the hazards along their route of flight. Look up opsgroup-the-power-of-the-group

  2. Whoever is the one to initiate the change – Thank you. As mentioned ” “So, we’ve actually suggested they move into the 21st century and look at upper and lower case, punctuation, plain standardized language, and time formats that are not just strings of numbers.” The existing garbage needed to stop decades ago.

  3. Over due, but not the reason the Air Canada crew’s error. Today it’s a simple thing to examine the NOTAMS at your destination airport. In fact it’s required. One might discover it’s closed.

    • Bryan – you must not fly into large, busy airports very often. The NOTAMS for these airports are incredibly bloated with information that is of absolutely no relevance. Its almost laughable how bad the information is presented, and how long and closely one has to read to dig out anything of importance.

      The current NOTAM system is outdated and unsafe, and a revision to the whole thing is long overdue.

  4. Retired Gulfstream pilot, never heard of OpsGroup – must have come along after my time. Sensible notams at last? What a gift. There’s nothing more frustrating to a conscientious pilot than having to plow through notams that have no bearing on their flight only to discover a nugget buried in interminable text that could make a big, big difference.

  5. Ditto on retired G pilot Alex. I was just departing the fix when OpsGroup came into existence. A big shoutout to OpsGroup which has been calling out the NOTAM system as junk well before Robert Sumwalt did. These guys are good and provide now exactly what we needed back when. Some of us can never quite quit so I still read OpsGroup. It lets me enjoy vicariously what I miss about the chase and reminds me of what I don’t miss. Piggyback on your old company’s subscription. You’ll be impressed.

  6. Great news and overdue as many have stated. Now can we turn our focus to doing the same with aviation weather? I’ve been a pilot for 40+ years and I’m comfortable in de-coding weather, but teletype and printed paper tapes are long gone, why are we still getting abbreviated weather? Time for all weather to be spelled out in plain english (or whatever native language you fly with).

    We keep wondering why we can’t get more young people interested in flying, how about making it more accessible?

    I’m sure I’ll “hear it” from many on this subject – so I’m bracing myself.

    • I rather like the abbreviated weather format, at least for METARs. The information is consistently presented and most of the time you know just what you are looking for (unlike with NOTAMS).

    • At least all modern apps will translate weather for us- even aviationweather.gov! Why doesn’t your flight department’s briefing package do it?

  7. Garbage NOTAMs in my self-briefing download were why I’d always ask on the follow up call the FSS briefer “Are there any NOTAMs for my route of flight?” I don’t recall ever missing one, but it I knew it was very possible to miss the one line of “You will be shot down if you go here” amongst all the NOTAMs for regulation changes in Africa. After 9/11, the boilerplate NOTAMs were i.n.s.a.n.e. Like five pages of crap I’d been well trained on that I had to sift through to find the relevant stuff. ForeFlight and the other advances since the 90s and 00s have made it a lot better, but that it needs a solution at all proves the point that it’s broken at the source.

    • This is the NOTAM they missed:

      A1492/14 NOTAM
      Q) UKDV/QRTCA/IV/BO /W /260/320/4822N03807E095
      A) UKDV
      B) 1407141800 C) 1408142359EST
      BOUNDED BY COORDINATES : 495355N 0380155E 485213N 0372209E 480122N
      0370253E 471352N 0365856E 465018N 0374325E 465900N 0382000E
      470642N 0381324E
      F) FL260 G) FL320)

      • That means nothing unless shown on a chart. And I wouldn’t think twice if ATC cleared me through it.