Our NOTAM Meaning has Changed - Here's why it matters
The NOTAMS Meaning (Notice to Airmen) is no more. Welcome instead to Notice to Air Missions.
So why has the NOTAM meaning changed? They used to be Notices to Airmen, but that’s just too gender specific so it’s been changed to Notice to Air Missions. And rightly so. But that’s not all. What has not changed besides the NOTAM acronym is also its function. So get ready to decode.
Now most of you, if not all, are not Airmen. Or Women or Air People. Nor might you be interested in any missions right now. Our main audience here is everyone outside the cockpit but that doesn’t mean we cannot learn a thing or two from our bus-driving brethren.
NOTAMS are interesting. They can be a wonderful way for anyone to understand the day-to-day operations of aircraft at the airport. And the risks associated with getting them around on the ground and within the airport control area.
Sure, a lot of these things won’t impact your daily work life but if you’ve got JetA1 flowing through your veins, have a penchant for the hectic mania that is turning around a B777 in 45 minutes, or you just like to know as much as the pilot does at your local airport. This is for you.
“Notice to Airmen” which is now “Notice to Air Missions” to the FAA, is a notice (a message, in a specified format) that contains information essential to personnel connected with flight operations. These personnel are Pilots, Air Traffic Controllers, Airports, Ground Controllers, and many others. NOTAMS are produced because they offer current information that these personnel might not know in advance of their flight.
The official FAA definition is the “abnormal status of a component of the National Airspace System (NAS) – not the normal status”. This includes any aeronautical facility, service, procedure, or hazard faced by aircraft or crew or anyone servicing them. NOTAMS are issued by all national authorities, and they are available via their websites or dedicated portals.
Examples of real-world NOTAMs
Clear? Ok, if that was a little too official for you then well done, you are a normal person like us. Here is our Real definition of a NOTAM. If something has changed, is new or has been removed within the normal operating environment as you know and understand it – you will get a NOTAM.
Some practical examples always help us:
- There is an Air Show, parachute Jump or an Ultralight convention at the Airport that weekend. This is new and abnormal and if you are flying your G7500 there, you need that NOTAM.
- President Trump, or Obama, or Biden is coming to your local airport, and they are closing that runway for Air Force one and other related aircraft. NOTAM.
- You are planning a flight to Mykonos, or Aspen and the runway was closed this morning because Beechcraft’s landing gear failed to work, and they haven’t finished their investigation. NOTAM.
- You are looking at alternate airports to MIAMI because the weather there is always chaotic. You check Orlando but the ILS (Instrument Landing System) is broken today. You saw that in a NOTAM.
- The National Guard F18’s, or the RAF F-35’s wants to do some exercises off the coast of your airport and so your SIDS and STARS will route you around that area. NOTAMS.
- Your airport is finally building that new terminal with a hotel and a theme park. Those cranes they use will have lights to warn pilots. But if they suddenly crap out. That’s a NOTAM.
Here's Mike Thompson's excellent NOTAM Decoder video
NOTAM Meaning formats
Fortunately, NOTAMS don’t have subtle jokes or cultural commentary like this blog, they are epitomes of conciseness and precision. So much so that they are ENCODED. No, not that kind of encoded- coded in the way that the hazard is self-evident, but we can shorten the message by giving it an acronym. And boy do we like acronyms in Aviation. But don’t worry, we have access to the full FAA decoder here should you need it.
NOTAMS are communicated by the issuing agency using the fastest available means to all personnel for whom the information is assessed as being within direct operational significance of the hazard. And these personnel would not otherwise have had at least seven days prior notification.
If you are an airline pilot then lucky you, you have a flight operations department with licensed dispatchers or operations controllers (and related management and staff) that work diligently to get this information into your flight paperwork when you arrive at the departure airport. Flight plans, weather, NOTAMS and most importantly, the crew food info, are all folded into a brown envelope that the pilots will go over together in the pre-flight briefing.
Other not-so-lucky pilots will arrive at the airport briefing facilities and collect the NOTAMS themselves from the friendly staff or else they will use internet access to go to their local authority website and search all NOTAMS relative to their flight plan. And we mean the whole plan. So, you enter your route, and the system should alert you to all new hazards that have appeared in the last 7 days.
Otherwise known as the xNOTAM Project is a collaboration run by the FAA and the European Eurocontrol consortium. This project should allow the dissemination of all NOTAM information into a format that will make it suitable for automatic processing. This will enable automated systems that support ATC and Air Navigation to have a more actual view of the aeronautical environment, this increasing the safety and efficiency of the air traffic management system.
In addition to NOTAMS there are other types of Air Mission notices. We won’t insult your intelligence by explaining the different categories.