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NTSB: Notams are just a pile of garbage

I think so. I think the key is in the very last part where it says “Part 2 of 2”. So there is probably a part 1 of 2 which says its a list of non published obstacles, and they couldn’t fit them all in one notam, so they just continued into a second one!

EIWT Weston

What about TAFs and METARs and TTFs ?

Archie wrote:

What about TAFs and METARs and TTFs ?

Not comparable to Notams. These are short, readable and useful.

LDZA LDVA, Croatia

I think that the thing about weather reports and forecasts is that they are in a very constrained format, with relatively few, easily learned, codes.

The informative part of NOTAMs is effectively freeform, with whatever abbreviations the author thinks up and with ridiculous lists of latlongs that are not human understandable. They are designed for the promulgator to be able to say afterwards “there, I told you, look!” rather than actually impart useful information beforehand.

When the originator actually wants us to have useful information, such as the Red Arrows, they find other, useful, sensible ways of telling us. The CAA SkyWise stuff is another good example.

EGKB Biggin Hill

Unfortunately I don’t think the Red Arrows RAs are published in a useful way either – for what really matters these days: automated import into flight planning software.

Sure enough NATS publishes, on some obscure corner of their website, under the heading of AIC (pink) (yellow) (bright red) (whatever WW1 classification system), a PDF which shows… wait for it… a human-readable map. But almost nobody apart from the locals doing the same old burger runs will know where to look for this. The way I find these docs (and much else) is by typing the notamed text into google…

The world carries on fairly well despite this, but probably because the people who would get confused (most “foreigners”) are flying to/from the UK under IFR, mostly very high up, so they get taken care of by ATC. Those who have a Class G section, and are thus exposed to the hazard of a high profile prosecution, have to be really careful; I stick a big post-in pad on the yoke so I don’t bust the Eastbourne RAT after descending from CAS after London Control hand me over to Shoreham. Soooo easy to forget…

AFAIK we are no nearer to a universally machine readable publication of restricted airspace than ever before. So we have a situation where the popular moving map prog vendors parse the coordinate lists manually, editing out the mistakes and ambiguities, but they can do this only for the regular watering hole runs close to where their main customer base is.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Someone ought to take leadership on this – the “oh it must comply with international ICAO whatever” doesn’t really wash.

Thought experiment: EASA shows some leadership in this area and overhauls the NOTAM system so the primary place notams in any EASA country go to is a modern system, designed from the outset to produce machine readable files in a unified format, with a public specification, made freely and openly available on a public REST JSON API that any flight planning system can use, or any website can use, to present NOTAMs however the software is programmed to (in other words, flight planning software for most cases). To comply with international obligations, this system also produces NOTAMs in the “old” format promulgating them in the “old” way as well, by generating the “old” NOTAMs automatically from the new format data.

Andreas IOM

This „pile of garbage“ was for instance also a contributor to the shooting down of MH17.

It’s astonishing considering how much money is put into useless safety/security mechanisms that the notam system is not cleaned up.

EASA CB IR Training

To be fair, MH17 was the result of the airline (and many others) deciding that flying through that area was a reasonable risk, and they got it wrong. They knew about the notam for sure; they have loads of people on the ground who deal with this stuff all day. The notam was only up to FL320 – see above.

Somebody who knew about the military situation might have known there might be some BUK missiles there, but that sort of knowledge is not the airline’s job, and such info might not be passed to airlines because that might compromise the source.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I still think it was a contributing factor. On every international flight you get a number of warnings eg „the faa warns operators of n-reg about iraqi airspace bla bla“ and they are not taken seriously because they are buried deep down in dozens of pages of security mumble jumble. The same was the case with the situation around crimea.
A small number of airlines avoided this area based on their own security analysis, not because of the notams.
Lufthansa and their subsidiaries did not. I flew over the exact area where Mh17 was brought down numerous times and shortly before it happened. If the actual content of the notam had been more clear (military transport aircraft was shot down by surface to air missile at positions xyz..) and delivered to the PIC in a more prominent way it might have raised some flags.

EASA CB IR Training

One bit which is now a big issue as well in Notams as in Sigmets and Airmets is the geographical representation. It is clearly now focused for electronic systems to decode and to display but that makes them almost useless for text or worse audio dissimination. To me, this shows the need to do something about getting them to the flight decks via network is more evident than ever. Particularly on the SIGMET side, what is going on now is outright dangerous as crews who do not have ADS-B uplink or some other way ofgetting the data onto their displays can basically not use them anymore.

I am surprisded however at the severity with which the NTSB talks about Notams as being garbage. I don’t think the NOTAMS per se are garbage but the way they are presented is outdated and from a time which is long gone (namely AFTN via Telex). Smart Notam applications are therefore a vital thing, but of course it is quite a task deciding what kind of message to forward and which to discard.

But the point some airline pilots here made is valid as well. over 100 pages of Notams is simply rubbish and basically requires a dispatcher to go through them before they are presented to the crews. That is what my job in Swissair was in part as a FOO, review the notams and mark those significant, this after they had been screened before by a team of folks only there for this purpose. Even then, now 15 years ago, this was cumbersome.

NOTAMS are necessary, no doubt, but there must be a better way of getting the information across than this.

LSZH, Switzerland
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