We’re fixing Notams. Here’s why.
NOTAMs have been the default for telling pilots what’s going on since 1924.
They don’t work.
And the most critical information is buried in this mountain of unreadable garbage.
Malaysian Flight 17 was shot down in 2014 over Ukraine, enroute from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. There was a Notam issued to warn the crew of the danger.
MH17 was in fact the 15th aircraft to have been shot down over Ukraine that summer. Following the shootdown of an Antonov 26 a few days before MH17, the authorities in Kyiv issued a very vague Notam:
Neither the crew of MH17, nor Malaysian Airlines, nor in fact almost any other airline, recognised the danger.
So, what if the Notam had said what was really going on?
Our Notams are packed with information on cranes, birds, closed taxiways, distant obstacles, grass-cutting, fireworks, and other stuff that we – as pilots, dispatchers, controllers, and aircraft operators – don’t care about. The very few that are relevant are heavily coded, in all UPPER CASE, and sit tucked amongst the rest of them like a snake in the grass.
When we need to, we won’t see them.
Problems with the NOTAM system:
- It’s controlled by the State – a single source of information that only very few can feed into: The CAA, the Military, The Airport company, the ATC Watch Manager. It didn’t work for the average Joe in the USSR and it’s not working for us.
- The character set is designed for an era when we sent Telegrams, Morse code, and most men had hats and a moustache. ITA-2 – the 30 character font set which is what gives us only UPPER CASE, a comma, a semicolon, a full stop, and an apostrophe – was done away with by the rest of the world in 1963 and replaced by ASCII.
- The language is heavily coded. It’s abbreviated and coded which means we STRGGL TO INTRPRT WT ALL TS ABBRVS MEAN. Our brains are not wired to process this stuff. We like plain language. And since it’s not 1982 and we’re not paying per character anymore, let’s cut out the abbreviations.
- It’s full of crap. No other way to put it. The most common Notams relate to Cranes, Birds, Distant obstacles, Taxiway closures, Military airspace reservations. Then there are the recurring themes of Grass cutting, Fireworks, Men working. Notams are defined as essential information, and very little of the content comes close to even being relevant.
- The number. 500k in the year 2007. 1 million in 2013. 2018 = 1.5 million? More? An average flight from London to Singapore will generate a 100 page Notam Briefing. You think a crew can read and process that in the 15 minutes they might have for briefing?
The solution? Be a Fox
Here are some ways to think of OpsFox:
- Community Notams – crowdsourced information
- Blockchain Notams – an open, transparent ledger
- Waze for Pilots – “Nothing can beat real people working together”
Because we are all undercover Foxes, we can report anything we like, and Fox Command takes on the role of curator, ensuring that the data flow remains relevant, critical, and useful.