The NOTAMs at the large Class B airports are nothing short of ridiculous.
Recently, I had to wade through Denver, Baltimore and Houston’s mound of NOTAMs, but I quickly realized 80% of them were pointless.
But why? Why were they pointless? More importantly, how can you sort through NOTAMs quickly to find the important ones?
Let me show you three ways to read NOTAMs quickly:
First: when a runway is closed it will generate a long list of associated NOTAMs you can ignore
The NOTAMs created as a result of runway closures are unnecessary and extraneous. Once you know this, you can cross off a lot of NOTAMs.
For example, the ILS will be out, the RVR system will be out and some or all of the lighting system.
The problem with NOTAMs is the airport manager is responsible for some (like the lighting NOTAMs), but the FAA is responsible for the equipment like the VORs and ILS.
The two entities each have their own requirements to publish NOTAMs, and the current NOTAM system doesn’t permit managers and the FAA to omit NOTAMs when a runway closes.
This is the ONE thing I would immediately change in the NOTAM system. I would prohibit the publication of any follow on NOTAM when the runway is closed.
So, let’s look at the associated NOTAMs when a runway closes.
The big one is an ILS closure. But, let me ask you, why do I care if the ILS isn’t working if the runway is closed?
Note: It is possible to use ILS to a closed runway. However, you would have to use the circling minimums if you chose to use an ILS to a closed runway. I have never seen this done.
It is unusual because circling minima are usually quite high and another approach to an open runway will probably get you lower on approach.
But what does this mean for you, the pilot? It means you can sort through NOTAMs at lightning speed if you do this:
Write down the closed runway and then cross out any NOTAMs relating to that closed runway.
You don’t even need to read the whole NOTAM because the runway number will be at the beginning of the NOTAM.
Here is an example:
Second: Obstacle NOTAMs are mostly irrelevant and you can probably ignore them.
I may take a little heat for this suggestion, but the obstacle interferes with a runway in such a way to make a runway unsafe, they will close the runway.
If it interferes with an approach or departure, they will change the climb gradients for takeoff or the minimums for instrument approaches. Those approach minimums or climb gradient changes will go in a separate NOTAM.
If it makes you feel uncomfortable to disregard obstacle NOTAMs completely, then just look at the height of the obstacle.
If it’s higher than 500 feet, then maybe take the time to plot it on the map.
Here is an example below.
The lighting on a very tall obstacle is unserviceable (U/S). For an instrument pilot, it’s NOT a concern, but for a helicopter with no night vision goggles, this may be a huge concern.
I disregard all obstacle NOTAMs outright because I am an IFR pilot in an airplane. I’m only concerned with changes to the approach minimums on an ILS due to an obstacle; not the actual obstacle NOTAM.
Your situation may be different. Just spend don’t get wrapped around the axle on obstacle NOTAMs.
Third: most lighting and runway marking NOTAMs are useless.
This is the second thing I would change to the NOTAM system: I’d get rid of “non-standard” lighting and marking NOTAMs.
I HATE the NOTAMs telling me that the taxiway markings aren’t standard. Do you know what “standard” looks like? I don’t and I’m an airline pilot.
I don’t know about you, but when I am taxiing around an airport I’m highly alert trying to find the right taxiway. It doesn’t matter how it’s marked. Every airport is a little different anyway.
The markings barely register in my brain. So, what do I care if it’s not standard?
Here is an example from Detroit’s Class B airspace. This is proof why you shouldn’t be intimidated by Class B airspace NOTAMs:
Note: this is how I sort through NOTAMs on my company’s flight program on the iPad. I mark the applicable NOTAMs on the right with a fat mark. All the yellow marks on the left are the NOTAMs I’ve decided won’t affect my flight.
As you can see, even from a huge airport like Detroit, an overwhelming majority of NOTAMs don’t matter.
Even the unserviceable PAPI won’t have that much of an effect on me, but it’s one of the few lighting NOTAMs I pay attention to. PAPIs aren’t essential, but they are helpful on an approach.
I hope this helps you sort through NOTAMs a little bit quicker.
If you want more extensive help with NOTAMs, check out my NOTAMs Made Easy course.
This blog post is just a fraction of what I cover in the course.
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