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Why a NOTAM Outage Grounds Flights

This article explains what the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system is and why the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not allow aircraft to fly when the system is down. NOTAM provides flight crews with information that might impact an aircraft’s safety, such as weather, ground conditions, runway closures, and airspace closures. The FAA requires flight crews to review NOTAMs before take-off.

Note

  • Critical systems do not fail because a person makes a mistake, but because insufficient controls fail to prevent the mistake. Of course, in this case, Layer 8 problems (politics) may in the turn out to be the real culprit.
  • This one is a good example of how complex the true critical path of business operations really is. Reminds me of the Colonial Gas Pipeline shutdown – turns out that billing systems are on the critical path, since they won’t pump the gas if they can’t bill for it. This wisdom dates back to the 13th century, where “keeps” means “keeps safe”: “The wise tell us that a nail keeps a shoe, a shoe keeps a horse, a horse keeps a knight, a knight, who can fight, keeps a castle.”
  • Ever wonder what constitutes a critical system? One can argue this is a critical business process, even so, being aware of the impact of outages to components which support that process, and ensuring you have a smooth failover are vital. This is the type of situation where you don’t want to rely on on-call IT, for a primary response, but rather invest in modern architecture where services scale, fail-over, etc. This type of architecture can be expensive, which is why you need to have it tied to mission impact.
  • By now we’ve all become familiar with the NOTAM acronym and its criticality in successful flight operations. I, like thousands of other passengers were delayed in our travel that day, but the FAA made the right call to ground all flights. That said, two observations: 1) after 30 years of reliable service, it’s time for a NOTAM replacement; technology evolves. 2) in addition to system replacement, the FAA should establish a prioritization scheme for messages; humans can only process so much information.
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