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The Problem of Bullsh@t NOTAMs

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  • Propstrike
    Rank 5 Registered User

    The Problem of Bullsh@t NOTAMs

    This lively piece very much chimes in with my thinking in the last few years. It describes a servce, which on first impression you might think is conceived for your protection,but now seems to be mainly operated for the protection of agencies who spam the system with superfluous detail, for their own protection.

    NOTE- Link seems erratic so I will coopy/paste salient content.

    ''We communicate the most critical flight information, using a system invented in 1920, with a format unchanged since 1924, burying essential information that will lose a pilot their job, an airline their aircraft, and passengers their lives, in a mountain of unreadable, irrelevant bull****.

    Yes CASA Australia, thats you. Yes, Greek CAA, thats you. And youre not alone.''

    In an unintended twist of irony, the agencies seeking to cover their legal ass are party to creating the most criminal of systems an unending flow of aeronautical sewage rendering the critical few pieces of information unfindable.

    This is more than just hugely frustrating for each pilot, dispatcher, and controller that has to parse through it all; its downright dangerous.

    If youre a pilot, youll either have already experienced this, or youre going to you stuff something up, and then be told: but there was a Notam out about that. Sure enough, there it is in black and white (and in big capital letters). Do you think that but there were 100 pages of them is going to be a valid defence?

    Well, it should be. The same agency conducting your post-incident interview is busy on the other end stuffing the system full of the garbage that prevented you from seeing it in the first place.

    There are three parts to the problem: the system, the format, and the content. The system is actually quite amazing. The AFTN network connects every country in the world, and Notam information once added is immediately available to every user. Coupled with the internet, delivery is immediate.

    The format is, at best, forgivable. Its pretty awful. Its a trip back in time to when Notams were introduced. You might think that was the 1960s, or the 50s. In fact, its 1924, when 5-bit ITA2 was introduced. The world shifted to ASCII in 1963, bringing the Upper and Lower case format that every QWERTY keyboard uses today, but we didnt follow nope, well stick with our 1924 format, thank you.

    Read that again. 1924. Back then, upper case code-infested aeronautical messages would have seemed impressive and almost reassuring in their aloofness. But there werent in excess of 1 million Notams per year, a milestone we passed in 2013. The 1 million milestone is remarkable in itself, but heres something else amazing: in 2006, there were only 500,000. So in seven years, Notams doubled. Why? Are there twice as many airports in the world? No. Twice as many changes and updates? Possibly. But far more likely: the operating agencies became twice as scared about leaving things out.

    And so onto the culprit: the content. The core definition of a Notam is ESSENTIAL flight information. Essential, for anyone tasked with entering information into the Notam System, is defined as absolutely necessary; extremely important. Heres a game you can play at home. Take your 100 page printout of Notams, and circle that ones that you think can be defined as essential. See how many fit that bill.

    So why is all this garbage in the system? Because the questions that the creators of Notams ask are flawed. The conversation goes like this:

    Should we stick this into a Notam?
    Yeah, wed better, just in case.

    How many are actually asking, Is this essential information that aircrew need to know about ?. Almost none. Many solutions to the Notam deluge involve better filtering, Q codes, and smart regexs. This overlooks the core problem. Its not what comes out that needs to be fixed, its what goes in.

    Even in 1921, we had much the same problem. Obstacle, 18 feet high, several miles from the runway.

    Nobody cares. Unless youve parked the Eiffel Tower on the threshold, leave this stuff for the AIP. And nobody cares about kites either. Nor about goat-grazing times. We dont care if your bird scarer is U/S. We dont care if theres a cherry-picker fixing a bulb somewhere. We dont care when youre cutting your grass.

    Nor do we care about closed taxiways. The only way I can get onto a taxiway is with an ATC clearance, and ATC will not clear me onto a closed taxiway.

    We care if the airport is going to be closed when we get there. If were going to have to divert because the runway is shut. If someone might shoot at us. If there are new rules. We care about the critical items, but we wont see them as things stand.

    And so, about here is where a normal editorial piece might end with we hope that the authorities improve the system, and sign off.

    But not here.

    Were in the business of doing things here at FSB, not just talking about them.

    Last year we wrote a few pieces about the Greece vs Turkey Notam battle. This month we did a group look at Briefing Packages, and it was astonishing to see how many pages of this diplomatic drivel still appeared in all our members Briefings. All in all, on average 3 full pages of every briefing for a flight overflying Greece or Turkey contained this stuff.

    So, we sent Greece a polite AFTN message on behalf of all of us.

    Thats just one piece of a thousand-piece puzzle, and it would be nice to think that one piece at a time we could fix the sytem. Lets get real. Its a monster, and its out of control.

    We dont think that we can fix the Notam system.

    But, we can think about a different solution. And thats exactly what were doing right now in OpsGroup. With almost 2000 members, we can make a difference. Watch this space. Or, if you want to help take action, send your thoughts to

    Last edited by Propstrike; 29th September 2018, 10:54. Reason: wonky link
  • 27vet
    Rank 5 Registered User


    mods please embed if allowed.
    Last edited by 27vet; 22nd October 2018, 14:48.
    sigpicHindsight is what you see from the tailgunner's position...


    • Propstrike
      Rank 5 Registered User

      Hey, thanks for the response. I wondered if the board would go a whole month with no posts !

      I like the video, very 'user friendly' .and engaging. That also led me to another pithy short video - NTSB says Notams are 'just a pile of garbage'


      • 27vet
        Rank 5 Registered User

        I have tons of scrap paper from briefing packages, and there is no paper recycling in Burkina Faso . Recently I decided to stop having the briefing packages printed and rather just keep the package on our tablets. Because we operate an older generation plane, we don't have EFBs.

        Nevertheless, ICAO should design a system which keeps them in order of importance.
        sigpicHindsight is what you see from the tailgunner's position...


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