While you study the National Airspace System (NAS), the airspace classes, and sectional charts, it is important that you’re aware of NOTAMs. As a drone pilot reading, NOTAMs must be a mandatory pre-flight process. Understanding NOTAMs is essential for the part 107 test as well. Let’s break down what NOTAMs are in aviation terms and how you can decode them.
What are NOTAMs?
NOTAMs is an abbreviation for Notices to Airmen. The FAA defines NOTAMs as “A notice containing information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations but not known far enough in advance to be publicized by other means. It states the abnormal status of a component of the National Airspace System (NAS) – not the normal status.”
In summary, NOTAMs are official notifications that tell a remote or manned pilot of any potential hazards along their flight path. This hazard can be in the NAS or on the ground depending on the type of NOTAM. Therefore, as a drone pilot, you must have access to NOTAM data in order to conduct an unhindered flight. You can search for NOTAMs using the FAA NOTAM Search (FNS) portal.
NOTAMs have a unique language characterized by the use of specialized contractions. Similar to a METAR report, every NOTAM has various abbreviations and codes. Here’s what a standard NOTAM looks like:
!DCA 08/182 DCA OBST BLDG LGT (ASN 2018-AEA-6441-OE) 385213N0770235W (1.2NM NNW DCA) 78FT (67FT AGL) U/S 1908151000-PERM
A NOTAM is made up of 5 basic components:
Accountability Location & Number
The first nine characters of a NOTAM signify the accountability location & NOTAM number. Every NOTAM begins with an exclamation mark ‘!’ followed by three letters which either denote the three-letter US airport codes, or FDC (Flight Data Center), GPS (Global Positioning Center), SUA (Special Use Airspace), CARF (Central Altitude Reservation Function). This is the accountability location.
The NOTAM number follows the ‘MM/NNN’ format. Here, ‘MM’ stands for the month followed by a three-digit number. Ex: 11/049 means it was issued in the 11th month (November) and is the 49th NOTAM of the month. However, some NOTAMs can be mentioned in an alternate number format as well. For example, some NOTAMs can be written as A1249/15. Here, ‘A1249’ is a computer-generated number and ‘15’ is the year 2015.
This represents the affected location. This is usually the same as the accountability location. Ex:!DCA 08/182 DCA, here the second ‘DCA’ (Washington DC Airport) is the location identifier.
There are 20 recognized keywords, one of which appears after the location identifier. These keywords define the type of NOTAM. Therefore, knowing all the keywords is essential to reading a NOTAM. The keywords are fairly simple to remember as they are the shortened abbreviations of full-length words. For example, Obstruction is written as ‘OBST’, Communication as ‘COM’, and Runway as ‘RWY’. Find the complete list of the keywords here.
This is the main part that describes the NOTAM. This can be difficult to interpret as it is full of acronyms and codes. As a remote pilot most runway, taxi, and other airport-related codes may be irrelevant. However, for the scope of the part 107 test, they are highly important. Therefore, you can go through all the NOTAM acronyms on this master list here. In the example mentioned above, the NOTAM description includes: ‘BLDG LGT (ASN 2018-AEA-6441-OE) 385213N0770235W (1.2NM NNW DCA) 78FT (67FT AGL) U/S’
This description indicates an out-of-service (U/S) building light (BLDG LGT) at an altitude of 78FT. Exact coordinates are also mentioned, ‘385213N0770235W (1.2NM NNW DCA)’ along with the Antenna Structure Number (ASN). There are 4 different types of conditions for a NOTAM – U/S (Out of service), OPN (Open), CLSD (Closed), ACT (Active).
Start Date and Validity
Lastly, the date of issuance is mentioned. In our NOTAM, the date along with UTC time of issuance is mentioned in a reverse format: YYMMDDUTC (1908151000) which means it was issued on 15th August 2019 at 1000Z. Followed by the date is the validity period mentioned as PERM indicating that this is a permanent NOTAM.
A NOTAM may have remarks mentioned at the end. Some notices may differ in structure due to extra information about airspace and runways. For more detailed information about the NOTAM structure, read this guide by the FAA. This guide also contains the different classifications of NOTAMs and additional information. Also, check out our comprehensive guide on reading METARs and TAFs for the Part 107 test.