What is NOTAM, the FAA system causing nationwide flight delays? [Updated]

faa notam outage drone pilots

A glitch in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system today has led to all flights across the US being grounded until at least 9 a.m. EST. But that’s just one part of the picture. NOTAMs affect every user of the national airspace. And this includes drone pilots.

What is NOTAM?

A NOTAM is the primary means to communicate time-sensitive information about the abnormal status of some element in the National Airspace System (NAS). NOTAMs address potential flight hazards such as drone operations, air shows, temporary flight restrictions (TFRs), and information not yet published on aeronautical charts, construction activity, and runway or airport closures. These are critical details for flight planning.

The FAA’s NOTAM system generates around 1.3 million notices each year. This information is targeted to everyone, not individual pilots and their specific flight plans.

To ensure the safety of everyone involved, drone pilots are also expected to check NOTAMs before flying their aircraft. One of the most common kinds of NOTAM that drone pilots could encounter include TFRs that define an area restricted to air travel due to a hazardous condition (wildfire, storms, etc.) or a special event (Super Bowl, presidential visits, etc.) or that distributes a general warning for the entire FAA airspace.

How do pilots check for NOTAMs?

The FAA has created a NOTAM search site at notams.aim.faa.gov/notamSearch. This site is a one-stop shop that lets you customize your NOTAM search. You can use criteria such as time and date, location, flight path, geographic area, latitude/longitude, keywords, and more. You can filter and sort results by location, class, start and end date, condition, etc.

Most of the popular flight planning and flight management apps fish out the NOTAMs relevant to your specific flight plan. 

Are drone pilots also required to issue a NOTAM?

A NOTAM is not required under Part 107 flights. They are only required if you have a certificate of authorization (COA) to fly under Part 91 as a public aircraft and part of the COA has a requirement to issue a NOTAM.

Read: This drone 3D modeling firm will pay you to test its new software

What happens now?

The FAA says it is working to restore NOTAM. “We are performing final validation checks and reloading the system now. While some functions are beginning to come back online, National Airspace System operations remain limited,” the FAA says.

The agency also confirms that all flights currently in the sky are safe to land.

In the meantime, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has briefed President Joe Biden on the FAA system outage. There is no evidence of a cyberattack at this point, but Biden has directed the Department of Transportation to conduct a full investigation into the causes.

It’s worth highlighting that the FAA continues to modernize the NOTAM on a regular basis to ensure that pilots have access to aeronautical data in a safe, timely, and efficient manner.

Read: Lawsuit challenging outdated NYC drone laws set to move forward

Update: 6:30 p.m. EST

The FAA has released the following statement:

The FAA is continuing a thorough review to determine the root cause of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system outage. Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file. At this time, there is no evidence of a cyber attack. The FAA is working diligently to further pinpoint the causes of this issue and take all needed steps to prevent this kind of disruption from happening again.

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