The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has approved legislation that would establish a task force to tackle making improvements to the notices to air missions (NOTAMs) system. The bill, called the NOTAM Improvement Act of 2023 (S.66), was introduced in January 2023 in the wake of a NOTAM system outage that caused a nationwide ground stop earlier that month. S.66 was co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
“The complete failure of the FAA’s NOTAM system stranded millions of Americans and was a warning of the need to strengthen and modernize our air travel system,” said Sen. Moran. “The FAA has a responsibility to make certain air travel in our country is as safe and efficient as possible. Moving this legislation forward is an important step to help meet the demands of 21st-century travel and prevent a similar failure in the future.”
If the bill is passed as approved, the FAA Task Force on NOTAM Improvement would be responsible for providing recommendations in areas including improving NOTAM presentation, ways to ensure that NOTAMs are complete, accurate and contain the proper information, best practices to improve the accuracy and understandability of NOTAMs and ensuring the stability, resiliency, and cybersecurity of the NOTAM computer system. It would be made up of representatives from air carriers, airports, airline pilot, dispatcher and FAA personnel unions, GA and business aviation stakeholders, aviation safety and human factors experts and computer system architecture and cybersecurity experts. As previously reported by AVweb, companion legislation was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in January with a vote of 424 to 4.
“The complete failure” sounds like grandstanding. As far as I have seen in reports of the problem, it was that new NOTAMs were not able to be loaded and a decision was made to take the system offline to resolve the issue. And then another decision was made regarding the “ground stop”. Is it a “system” failure when the stop was due to a decision by an individual or group with authority to make questionable decisions?
When between 50 to 100 Notams are issued for a major airport at one time that only address crane and or other obstacles due to construction projects, it is completely useless information, as I don’t know of anyone who can process that in a useful manner. They get in the way of more pertinent and practical approach and departure procedure Notams that already account for the obstructions being there. The second issue I commonly have is when Notams are presented with active dates that sometimes begin several days in advance. I suppose this might be useful for long range trip planning, but again they obscure the Notams you need to know about more immediately. There needs to be a better way to filter out what you don’t need to know, while ensuring that what you do need to know is presented.
The structure (categories) and the language needs to be simplified. IMO there should be only three categories- departure, enroute, and arrival. These three categories could incorporate domestic, FDC, SAA, and military data.
A large body of NOTAM traffic could be considered simply CYA-based. Sky King comes to grief against a crane well out of airspace he never, ever should have been flying through and his heirs (or their lawyers) would be screaming “why wasn’t our poor loved one warned of this deadly menace?”. Of course, even with NOTAM there is the argument used by the little old lady who ran the stop sign where her rural lane met the main road and was hit by an on comer: “Well, EVERYONE knows I don’t stop at that stop sign!”
AV Web version of editing: Read “well into…” vice “well out of…”
Wow, the big win after all the years of problems with notams is…the establishment of a task force. Nice job, Congress. Pack it up and go run for re-election.
Joshua, I was thinking the same thing. Another Task Force to save the day. Yeah 🙄
Asked the ChatBot:
Me: How should the FAA make the NOTAM system better?
OpenAI: The FAA could make the NOTAM system better in several ways:
Improve the timeliness and accuracy of NOTAMs: The FAA should ensure that NOTAMs are issued in a timely manner and are accurate. This can be achieved by implementing a better system for collecting and disseminating information.
Simplify the language: The language used in NOTAMs can be technical and difficult to understand for many people. The FAA should consider using plain language that is easy to understand by the general public.
Use a centralized system: Currently, NOTAMs are issued by different entities and can be scattered across different sources. A centralized system would make it easier for pilots and other aviation professionals to access the information they need.
Provide better context: NOTAMs often lack context, which can make it difficult for pilots to understand the significance of the information. The FAA should consider providing more detailed information about the reasons behind the NOTAMs.
Incorporate new technology: The FAA should consider using new technology to improve the NOTAM system, such as automated NOTAMs that are generated based on changes in the aviation environment. This would reduce the burden on human operators and improve the accuracy of the information provided.
Since pilots are the ones who actually use the NOTAM system, the committee should consist of…. pilots; full stop. The group should be airline pilots, commercial and charter operators, corporate pilots and GA. They should compile the list of needs for the system, which would then be given to the rest of the group to work up a solution. The new system would then be given back to the pilots who will test and fine tune the result. By inviting all the “stake holders” to the original committee, you end up with a bunch of competing agendas that will basically come up with an unwieldy mess little better than what we have now. Anyone ever heard of PAFI and EAGLE? Two decades (and counting) worth of committee dithering and still nothing to show for it.
Which will be completed first, unleaded fuel or new NOTAM system?
IMHO the most benefit could be created by updating the system in a way that makes NOTAM machine-readable (by encoding position, altitude, etc. information). That would allow all kinds of computer filtering and display wizardry and keep all NOTAM that are not affecting things close to the flight path out of sight. There is no reason flight planning software or even a new navigation computer/FMS shouldn’t be able to display areas affected by NOTAM with an icon much like a car’s navigation system shows a traffic jam or construction area. To be fair, it’s not only pilots who use the system but dispatchers as well.
What frustrates me is that Congress is having to pass a law, again, to make the FAA do what the FAA should have been doing all along. I bet it doesn’t even take a lot of money to fix it just the will. And therein lies the problem. On the software side, I bet you could give this problem to a senior capstone design course for CS majors and they’d do it better and faster than whoever the FAA will let the contract to. These aren’t hard problems.
And they give this to the FAA to “improve”? The feds are the reason why NOTAMS are useless in the first place. Give it to a group of Airline Line Pilots and we’ll have this sorted in a week.