FAA initiates overhaul of current notam system

 - November 27, 2007, 6:43 AM

There is general agreement that the FAA’s Notice to Airmen (notam) system is a conduit for often confusing information of marginal value and hopelessly wedded to outdated technology. Funding to fix problems with the notam system, however, recently came through for the FAA’s notam office and changes are already under way. The FAA recently took over the notam function from the former FAA Flight Service Stations, which are now run by contractor Lockheed Martin.

The first phase of the changes to the notam system will force some standardization onto the writing of notams and  consolidate all the different civil notam databases into one. This should happen by January 28.

The FAA is adopting the ICAO notam format and reclassifying D (distant) notams. D notams will include information that used to be disseminated in L (local) notams, including airport taxiway, ramp, apron and lighting information. So L notams will disappear and be replaced entirely with D notams.

New Notams Save Time
The other big change is that notam format will be standardized using 12 specific keywords and standardized contractions. “Non-conforming notams will be rejected and sent back to the sender,” said Gary Bobik of the FAA’s Aeronautical Information Management Office.

Using keywords will help classify notams more accurately and allow users to search for and categorize notams of particular interest to their operations. This will eliminate the need for operators to read through every notam to check whether it applies. Users could even write programs to find applicable notams, including geospatial search terms to eliminate non-applicable notams. Does a domestic flight in North America, for example, need to know about a prohibition against flying in Iraq? Or when flying across the U.S., does an operator need to know about every airport between departure and destination?

One possible–but as yet unscheduled–change is the elimination of upper-case letters in notams. The problem is simple, according to Bobik. Entities that generate notams for many years typed on old-style all-caps keyboards that came with computers that were state of the art years ago when computer memory was insufficient to accommodate upper- and lower-case letters. The style for publishing notams naturally devolved to the lowest common technology denominator, in this case, those old keyboards.

Another advantage of the new system, said Bobik, is that multiple issues can be listed in one notam instead of having to create separate notams for each problem. FDC (Flight Data Center) notams won’t change next year, but the new notam system will allow for creation of pointer notams that link to the full FDC notam. Again, this should save space and help users weed out non-applicable FDC notams.

Next July, the FAA plans to release a rewritten FAA notam Order 7930.2K. The agency isn’t stopping with these changes, however. Plans call for integrating Department of Defense and FAA notams in the same database and switching to
a digital notam system that will be more amenable to embedding graphics and uploading notam information to modern avionics systems.

“The notam system has outlived its original usefulness,” said Dick Marchi, senior advisor of policy for the Airports Council International-North America.

To keep current with notam developments, see the NBAA’s notam realignment page at http://web.nbaa.org/public/ops/airspace/realignment.