NTSB Chairman Calls NOTAMs 'Garbage'

National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt called the Notam system in the U.S. “messed up” during a hearing on the July 7, 2017 incident at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in which an Air Canada Airbus A320 nearly landed on a crowded taxiway. The crew mistook the taxiway as their cleared runway—28R—because Runway 28L was closed. The pilots failed to catch that note on page eight of the 27-page list of the SFO Notams (Notice To Airmen, issued to pilots before flights to advise them of circumstances related to flying).

After acknowledging the “crew didn’t comprehend the Notams,” Sumwalt read a verbose and complicated entry that limited a portion of a taxiway to aircraft with a wingspan of 214 feet or less. “Why is this even on there?” he asked. “That's what Notams are: they’re a bunch of garbage that no one pays any attention to,” adding that they’re often written in a language that only computer programmers would understand.

Sumwalt also relayed a recent experience he had flying the jumpseat into North Carolina’s Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, saying, “There were pages and pages and pages of Notams, including one for birds in the vicinity of the airport…when are there not birds in the vicinity of an airport?”

Not surprisingly, one of the NTSB’s six safety recommendations stemming from this incident is a “more effective presentation of flight operations information to optimize pilot review and retention of relevant information.”

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