We are drowning in the data, but missing the message.
Aviation prides itself on safety. There is a glaring gap.
Every day, every airline flight in the world: Pilots are forced to use a broken, archaic briefing system from the 1920’s, and as a result, they regularly miss critical flight information.
What would have been the single worst disaster in aviation history – Air Canada 759, in July 2017 – was averted by only 1 second. The cause: this flawed briefing system, meaning the pilots did not realize their runway was closed.
The briefing system, or Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) is a worldwide standard, and presents information in a coded, upper case, incredibly un-human-friendly format, is overloaded with irrelevant information, and creates 100 page briefing packages for flight crews that are simply impossible to read and understand. For every pilot and passenger alike, this creates unacceptable risk.
What’s the problem?
COUNT: The huge number of NOTAMs in the briefing package, making it way too difficult to find the critical element that could lead to disaster. The total count is 2 million total this year worldwide.
CAPITALS: The telegraphic format issue, specifically, “everything is printed in caps and hard to read.
CODING: Coding and abbreviations, and most pilots don’t know them all. You can take any message and make it unclear with those two things, caps and coding.
CRAP: Lots of junk Notams: grass cutting, birds, fireworks, foxes on the airport — all useless information to the pilot. There are a lot of animals in the NOTAMs and nothing you can do about it in your airplane.
CONTROL: We have to rely on a single source – the State. As shown in MH17, this not reliable – and there are scores of other examples of states not telling the full story.
What happens as a result?
Incidents with a root cause: the Notam Problem
Incidents where Notams were part of the cause:
- An124 at Copenhagen
- Crew unaware of Notam published restricting runway length (May 2020). In Danish.
- Air Canada 1804 – Montego Bay
- “At this point, the flight crew became aware of a published Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) 6 specifying that the ILS for Runway 07 was not available. The NOTAM had been included in the company flight release documents before departure but had not been noticed by the flight crew”
- N303GA, Gulfstream III – Aspen
- US Controller clears aircraft to closed airport
- “Most of the NOTAMs we receive are unimportant, but obviously some are critical. However, deciphering 19 pages of ridiculously hard-to-read NOTAMs is cumbersome at best.”
- BE36 aircraft attempts out-of-service VOR approach
- “Two Pilots and the Controller not knowing about the NOTAM testifies to problems with the NOTAM system as it is today”