3 Things Every Pilot Needs to Know About… NOTAMs

A lot of times the majority of NOTAMs a pilot receives are glossed over and are simply the ‘filler’ at the end of a preflight briefing. It is all to common for a briefing to be loaded with notices that have seemingly nothing or at least, very little to do with an intended flight, sometimes one or two important ones are included and are obvious, but not always!

Projects

Projects, especially those that include runway closures can have big impacts on your intended operations…

Notices to Airmens (NOTAMs) play a very vital role in aviation safety and I believe that the abundance of ‘non-impact’ NOTAMs provided during the majority of briefings has had a negative impact on pilots over the years. Since most NOTAMs received have nothing to do with the pilot’s intended flight, often ALL NOTAMs (improperly) become an afterthought and something that just happens to be there. While I was teaching people to fly full time I would often become discouraged by the number of NOTAMs I received while teaching students how to get proper preflight briefings, mainly because the majority were provided because of their location, not whether or not they had an impact on my flight. Briefers got wise to this and commonly ask, “Will you be using GPS today?” or “Will you be used any NAVAIDs on your flight?” This has helped in the effort to cut down on overloading pilots.

While serving in airport administration role, I have developed an even greater respect for all NOTAMs though I am still cautious that many notices with no potential impact are provided. During 2014 I became an advocate for the FAA’s Digital NOTAM Manager system and I have continued to beat the drum for them since. The system allows airport managers and operators to directly enter NOTAMs and view all of the possible options for the notice. This is in stark contrast to prior times when an airport operator would call a Flight Service Station to file a NOTAM, where often the manager did not know all of the options and the communication between the manager and the FSS employee could lead to aNOTAM being published that wasn’t as good/effective as it could have been.

  1. Planning, NOTAMs can only be posted 72 hours ahead of time

Pilots should recognize that airport operators are limited to a time window of 72 hours before a NOTAM will be effective, when they can publish a NOTAM. As a result, even if the airport operator knows that a runway will be closed so that an FAA tech can change in pavement threshold lights next Friday, the NOTAM can’t be published until 48 hours before the runway is to be closed.

This of course can cause challenges and it is difficult for an airport manager to reach operators, even based operators with advanced notice. Check out #3 for a way you it be able to ‘get ahead’ in this regard.

  1. Sometimes you can get a look ahead…

If you know you’ll be flying to a particular airport next month and it is an important trip, say you are visiting an old friend or attending an event, think ahead. Just because airport operators can’t publish a NOTAM until 48 hours before it becomes effective, it doesn’t mean they can post long-term notices.

If your intended destination has a single runway, and you’re flying a fixed wing aircraft, the status of that runway is going to be extremely important to you. Maybe unbeknownst to you the airport is presently reconsutring their single runway. This closure could potentially last beyond your intended visit. Rather than blindly going ahead with planning and making arrangements only to find the day before, or worse, on the day of your trip, that the destination is closed to fixed wing aircraft you could find that out today by simply checking NOTAMs early. This method isn’t perfect, because construction could start in between your check of the NOTAMs and your visit, but I always say, when planning a long or important trip, check NOTAMs early and often. You’ll prevent a gotcha moment that way!

  1. Construction? Call the airport, you don’t want to get caught by something you could have known…

Say you’re looking ahead a week or two and NOTAMs and you see that there are a lot of surface closures and ‘Work In Pogress’ notices for construction, there is another way to get even more info. You can always call the airport, you can start with the FBO, but reaching out to the airport administration office is your best bet. The FBO operators may be there everyday and have a good idea, but the airport administration is really the ideal contact. As someone who has worked in airport administration, I can tell you it’s much better for us to answer pilot’s questions ahead of time and provide outlook information than for us to have to deal with an upset pilot or passenger who can’t reach their intended destination. This is something that can be easily avoided, and often times the airport administration will enjoy speaking with the flight operator. From the airport side, we’d rather provide first hand information. So when in doubt, give a call. The airport administration will know better than anyone else, they are the authority at the airport.

-Fly safe, @MTElia1B9

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