FAA and Eurocontrol to modernise 50-year-old system

Eurocontrol and the US Federal Aviation Administration hope to field a preliminary system for producing standardised, computerised notices to airmen (Notams) by 2010 in a move it says will provide "major benefits" for the aviation community.

Notams are issued to disseminate safety-critical, recently generated aeronautical information about runway closures, danger areas, taxiway closures, and so on. About 18,000 Notams are typically in force worldwide, and 25 an hour are issued, replaced or cancelled.

The current system was designed 50 years ago and is intended to be used and understood solely by humans, typically pilots, air traffic controllers and flight dispatchers. Notams require the user to read the information direct in loosely structured, free-text form, usually via a website.

Making Notams readable by computers would enable last-minute updates to be placed on automated data processing systems for instant distribution to all concerned, including pilots. Preliminary trials of computer-readable danger area Notams in the USA have already shown that their use can improve safety, for example in warning of forest fires, or security zones.

Now Eurocontrol has come up with a system called xNotam and has run the first trials with Darmstadt university. Project initiator Eduard Porosnicu says that although its introduction is several years away, there will be a "clear benefit of worldwide implementation" of the system, but only for users who have the capacity to download the information.

Next year the FAA plans to encode airport surface and global navigation system data using the AIXM aeronautical information exchange model developed by Eurocontrol for xNotam. The resulting information will then be distributed and used to create visualisation systems to filter, highlight, map and read Notam information.

"Many end-users will still need classical free-text Notams for many years to come," says Porosnicu. "However, we expect that, in time, computer-interpretable aeronautical data will become the norm and the Notam as we know it today may cease to exist."

Source: Flight International