Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 25 January 2023

NOTAM system failure

Source: By The Indian Express

Thousands of flights, within, into or out of the United States were delayed or cancelled due to a technical glitch on 11 January 2023, the AP reported. The US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) system, which alerts pilots and other flight personnel about hazards or any changes to airport facility services and relevant procedures, was not processing updated information, the civil aviation regulator’s website showed.

In an advisory, the FAA said its NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions) system had “failed”. There was no immediate estimate for when it would be back, the website showed, though NOTAMs issued before the outage were still viewable. After hours of delay, the FAA claimed that normal operations “have resumed”.

We take a further look.

NOTAM: notices containing essential information concerned with flight operations

According to the FAA’s website, “a NOTAM is a notice containing information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations but not known far enough in advance to be publicized by other means.” Further,

NOTAMs indicate the real-time and abnormal status of the National Airspace System (NAS) impacting every user.

NOTAMs concern the establishment, condition, or change of any facility, service, procedure or hazard in the NAS.

NOTAMs have a unique language using special contractions to make communication more efficient.

Without NOTAMs, aeroplanes are at a risk of running into flocks of birds or remianing unaware of slippery conditions on runways, for example. NOTAMs are listed location wise with pilots needing to check “25 nautical miles to either side of your full route of flight” for relevant NOTAMs.

An example of a NOTAM

The system relays information about changes in conditions such as weathervolcanic activityairspace restrictions and other factors, as well as unusual events such as parachute jumps, rocket launches and military exercises. It also advises pilots of extraordinary situations at airports, including icingmalfunctioning lights and the presence of flocks of birds, reported Simple Flying.

The failings of a centralised system

The FAA runs a centralised NOTAM system, which displays on a monitor relevant information according to the scheduled flight path. However, as with any centralised system, glitches/failures have a widespread impact.

According to the AP, the FAA has ordered all US flights to delay departures until 9 am EST. While most of the disruptions are along the East Coast, they are spreading west.

Currently, it is unclear how long this system will be down. However, given its salience in ensuring safe flight operations, one thing is certain – operations will be affected till such time the system is back online.

US airports, already under the scanner due to staffing shortages and crumbling infrastructure, have reported crowding and chaos due to the system failure.

Passengers have complained about the lack of information and communication from the FAA and airlines. While the FAA has said normal services have now resumed, the US is still feeling the after-effects of the delays.

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