Update: April 30, 2023:
We have completed the work on creating our Top 50 Tags. Now, we are working on the design of a SuperNOTAM Briefing Package!
This is a quick guide to help us navigate the “NOTAM Tags” concept we’re working on. We’re learning as we go, this will be kept updated as we learn more!
Why do this? We pilots like to complain about NOTAMs, and for good reason.
But to fix them, we have to be clear on what we want instead. If we’re not sure what we want, we can’t expect NOTAM Officers, or the FAA, or ICAO, or anyone working on fixing them to know either. Although 10,000 pilots have said “Fix NOTAMs Now!”, there is no good answer to this yet …
What do pilots actually want?
There’s nothing out there to help NOTAM Officers know what we want, and what we don’t. Without that, nothing can really change. So, two things must be done:
1. Come up with a list of what’s critical, what’s useful, and what’s junk, and then …
2. Find the best tags to accurately name these things, so they can be sorted and filtered.
If you like a tidy inbox, you might have a tag system in your Gmail or Outlook.
It means, “This email is about this“.
Tag the email, then you can sort it into folders, or click “Meetings” to find that zoom link.
We can do the same thing with NOTAMs.
A Notam tag means, “This NOTAM is about this“.
If a NOTAM has a tag to say, “It’s about this“, then:
– We can show critical things first (like Runway closed)
– We can show useful things somewhere further down
– We can hide junk
Each operator can decide for themselves what degree of importance each tag has. Most will agree that “Runway closed” is critical, but the middle ground will be different for everyone. Bird NOTAMs may be junk to most of us, but if you want to see them, just tick the “Wildlife” box for your briefing package settings. The only thing that’s important is having useful tags to allow operators and pilots to make their own decision.
What makes for a useful tag?
We need enough tags to cover most types of NOTAM. The tag should be:
- Self-evident. For example, “Fire (RFF)”, “Fuel”, “Airport Hours” – the tag tells you what it’s about, regardless of what kind of category it might belong to.
- Uniform importance. All NOTAMs with this tag should be the same level of importance (or, impact) to a pilot. We can tag all Bird, Babboon and Bat NOTAMs with “Wildlife” – they are all of the same level of importance (for most, low). But if we tag all Runway NOTAMs with “Runway” – we get a mix: a closed runway is of different importance to a runway sign missing.
It’s likely that about 50 would be perfect. The first 15 might look like this:
Why 50? Why not 500? We just need enough tags so we can sort the NOTAM Briefing (that’s the Big Problem).
10 isn’t enough. We would be able to divide the briefing into “Airport”, “Runway”, “Taxiway”, but there would still be lots of junk. We have to dive a little deeper and ask “Which Airport NOTAMs do we need, and which are junk”? Airport closed – important, Airport change of telephone number – not so much.
100 is too many. With too many tags, it becomes too complex. We don’t need different tags for “ILS MM U/S” and “ILS IM U/S”, for example – they have the same impact and importance.
The perfect number is at the intersection of simplicity and effectiveness.
What are we doing again?
Before you put on your NOTAM-tagger overalls, a quick reminder of our “Why” – it’s really important!
- NOTAMs are for pilots. Always ask, “What’s the impact of this for a pilot”.
- There is only one Big Problem – Pilots can’t see the critical stuff. This is what we’re solving. Not every pilot has this issue – we’re solving this by focusing on the ones that do: Airline pilots, corporate & charter pilots, and anyone flying long distances or internationally. Other pilots (GA, Gliders, Helicopters) will still be able to make use of these tags.
Step one: Top 20
So, what’s important, and what isn’t? Pilots rarely agree on much, but figuring out a Top 10 of each is easy enough.
The ones on the left are critical. The ones on the right are junk. Don’t sweat the details, it’s just an example – but most of us agree on most of these.
We can then apply the labels to NOTAMs that cover those topics, and right away we can put the critical ones at the top, and hide the junk. That’s 20 of the 50 labels already done.
Step two: The final thirty
Easy huh! We already have twenty tags. This part is harder. We’re now onto the “Useful things” section. Even if you thought, “Yup” to the above, this part is going to be much harder to find agreement on what’s important and what isn’t.
So, we need a different approach.
We need to find tags that will attract NOTAMs of the same level of importance. That allows the operator or pilot to make their own decision on what they think is important.
To come up with those tags, we have to consider the impact of the NOTAM type.
Start with real NOTAMs
We’re not trying to come up with a complicated new hierarchy.
We’re simply asking, “What types of NOTAMs do we get?” – stick a tag on them, so we can sort them later.
So, we should start by looking at actual NOTAMs. Let’s go down to Mexico, and take 5.
For each NOTAM, the question is “What is this about?” They are all about the Airport, but that’s not granular enough. We could say “ATIS”, “Airport”, “Runway”, “Runway”, “Taxiway”, but that’s also not enough. Instead we need to consider the impact.
So in order: won’t get the ATIS until close in (minor), Airport won’t stay open if we’re late (important), Runway closed (critical), WIP on the Runway (junk), Taxiway light broken (minor).
The question now is, “What tag names allow us to group any similar NOTAMs with (roughly) the same impact together”.
If we said “Comms“, “Airport hours“, “Runway closed“, “WIP“, and “Taxiway lights” – now we’re sucking diesel. Let’s apply those tags.
Test the tag in reverse
Are all “Airport hours” NOTAMs equally important?
Are all “Runway closed” NOTAMs equally important?
Are all “Taxiway light” NOTAMs equally important?
Yes. So, we can safely continue with those tags for now.
Are all “Comms” NOTAMs equally important? Harder to work this one out. But that’s the work we must do. So, we get some pilots invovled and ask them – and discuss until we get a reasonable answer.
Eventually, we’ll wind up with the 30 most useful tags to allow NOTAMs of similar type and importance to be grouped together.
Step three: Categorize them
Tags can (and should) be loosely arranged into categories, but it’s not that important what goes where. Each tag is self-evident, so the category isn’t a big deal.
The reds are “Runway”, the yellows are “Taxiway” – easy. Others are less ovbvious. Some might be Hazards, or maybe there should be an Obstacle category. We’ll figure that out as we go.
Right now, we have these eight which already seem to cover the vast majority of tags.
We probably need one or two more.
The optimal set of NOTAM tags will:
- Allow operators and pilots to sort NOTAMs in their order of preference (hide some, show some, whatever)
- Give us a list we can show to anyone that asks “What do pilots want?”
So, first, we have to figure out what we want. We won’t agree entirely on the order of importance – but we can definitely find agreement on the best way to tag NOTAMs so that each one of us can make that choice in a briefing package.