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Deciphering NOTAMs

Updated: Oct 11

What the bleeding heck are NOTAMs??!! Where do you find the elusive things? Why do you want them anyway??!! How do you read them?!


A NOTAM is a "Notice to Airmen" The point of a NOTAM is to provide the most up to date information about an airfield, or anything that could affect the flight plan (whether filed or not) of a pilot. For example: if an airfield is IMC.

If a runway suddenly becomes un-serviceable, e.g. there is an accident or obstruction on the runway;

  • if work is being done on the runway;

  • if lights aren't working at night;

  • if there is no fuel;

you know, all the nasty surprises you don't want especially if you are approaching reserves.


The problem, however, has always been that, even way back when when I began flying, these mysterious NOTAMs were somewhat elusive. We knew we needed them, we knew we had to read them, but we were just not quite sure exactly where to find them, not timeously anyway, which is the whole point of a NOTAM to begin with!


Hail the age of computers, and internet based flight plans. Oh, and that useful telephone thing. You can get NOTAM information in three places....


Get NOTAMs from:

  • The ATNS website: https://file2fly.atns.co.za If you are a pilot and you are not already registered on this site, go register now. I can wait... (you can get NOTAMs from a "Route Briefing"; "Zone Briefing", or an "Aerodrome Briefing" on the file2fly website once you are registered).

  • Johannesburg Briefings: 0860 FLY NOW (in numbers that's 0860 359 669) If you are a pilot and you don't already have this number saved in your cell as a Contact, do so now. I can wait....

  • directly from the Tower where the NOTAM was issued. (Those guys and gals are great!)

Okay, so now we know what NOTAMs are and where to find them. If you phone for NOTAMs, then you will have them interpreted for you. BUT if you check it as part of your flight planning, (what an excellent, prepared pilot you are!), then you will have to interpret it yourself.


This is what NOTAMs look like:


Aerodrome:FARB(RICHARDS BAY)

B) 1205011700 C)PERM (C1652/12)

D) MON-FRI 0430-1700

SAT 0700-0900

SUN 1100-1300 AND 1500-1700

E)FIRE FIGHTING AND RESCUE HR OF SER.PUBLIC HOLIDAYS AS PER NOTAM.

B) 1206220614 C)1207230600 EST (C2241/12)

E) RICHARDS BAY TWR VDF 118.9 MHZ U/S.

B) 1205011700 C)PERM (C1649/12)

D) MON-FRI 0430-1700,

SAT 0700-0900,

SUN 1100-1300 AND 1500-1700

E) ATC HR OF SER. PUBLIC HOLIDAYS AS PER NOTAM.

B) 1204160810 C)1207090700 EST (C0630/12)

E) TWR 118.9 MHZ UNREL..

B) 1202130456 C)1202151700 (C0630/12)

E) WX EQPT U/S. ATC WILL ONLY PROVIDE EST QNH AND WINDSPEED.

B) 1202100430 C)1203311000 EST (C0609/12)

D) DLY 0430-1730

E)WI ATC HR OF SER WIP ON RWY 05/23 AND MANOEUVRING AREA.OUTSIDE ATC HR OF SER WIP 50M WEST OF RWY 05/23 AND MANOEUVRING AREA.10 MIN PN FOR WORKPART TO VACATE. PILOTS TO EXER EXTREME CTN.


Lets dissect the NOTAMs like a frog on a bench:

Aerodrome: FARB(RICHARDS BAY)

(easy... everything below relates to Richards Bay Airport)


B) 12050117001205011700 ...in the year 2012,

1205011700 ...in May,

1205011700 ...on the 1st, from

1205011700 ...5pm Zulu time (7pm in Richards Bay time)

C)PERM There will be a permanent change to the AIP's (haul yours out and modify it)

(C1652/12) This is the ATNS reference number for the NOTAM, and you can skip over it

D)MON-FRI 0430-1700SAT 0700-0900SUN 1100-1300 AND 1500-1700 The above times (in Zulu time) are when you can get almost instant assistance....

E)FIRE FIGHTING AND RESCUE HR OF SER.PUBLIC HOLIDAYS AS PER NOTAM. ... from the Fire and Rescue guys at Richards Bay. If you plan to arrive on a Public Holiday, you will have to check the NOTAMS closer to the time to see when they will be at the airport to assist you should the need arise.

B) 1206220614 C)1207230600 EST (C2241/12)1206220614 Year 2012 1206220614 July 1206220614 the 22nd 1206220614 at fourteen minutes past six Zulu time until an estimated date and time of 1207230600 EST (come on... try to read it...)

E)RICHARDS BAY TWR VDF 118.9 MHZ U/S. in other words the VDF --> Very High Frequency Directional Finder... is unserviceable (U/S) So this means if you are a little unaware of your position coming in to Richards Bay when it is manned, the Tower won't be able to help you, since they won't be able to pick up your bearing from your radio transmissions. You are on your own Bud!

B) 1205011700 C)PERM (C1649/12)D)MON-FRI 0430-1700,SAT 0700-0900,SUN 1100-1300 AND 1500-1700E)ATC HR OF SER. PUBLIC HOLIDAYS AS PER NOTAM. You should have the gist of it by now... interpret the one above on your own...

B) 1204160810 C)1207090700 EST (C0630/12)E)TWR 118.9 MHZ UNREL.. This one says between the dates stipulated above ... 16 April till an estimated 9 July 2012, curse INDIZA Airport Management if you can't reach Richards Bay Tower (since they are responsible for the equipment in FARB, not ATNS who man the Tower), if the Tower Frequency of 118.9 MHZ is unreliable.

B) 1202130456 C)1202151700 (C0630/12)E) WX EQPT U/S. ATC WILL ONLY PROVIDE EST QNH AND WINDSPEED. Once again... maintenance on Tower equipment...

B) 1202100430 C)1203311000 EST (C0609/12)D) DLY 0430-1730E) WI ATC HR OF SER WIP ON RWY 05/23 AND MANOEUVRING AREA.OUTSIDE ATC HR OF SER WIP 50M WEST OF RWY 05/23 AND MANOEUVRING AREA.10 MIN PN FOR WORKPART TO VACATE. PILOTS TO EXER EXTREME CTN. This one is a little more fun: WI(within) ATC (Air Traffic Control) HR (hours) OF SER (service) WIP (work in progress) ON RWY 05/23 AND MANOEUVRING AREA.OUTSIDE ATC HR OF SER WIP 50M WEST OF RWY 05/23 AND MANOEUVRING AREA.10 MIN(minutes) PN (prior notice) FOR WORKPART(y) TO VACATE. PILOTS TO EXER(exercise) EXTREME CTN(caution). So warn the okes - on the normal Richards Bay radio frequency - 10 minutes before you plan to land so they can get off the runway for you, when ATC is off duty.


If you do not know how to interpret the abbreviations, look them up in the AIP's, General Section 2, (use the bookmark).


Congrats! You are now NOTAM literate. I sincerely hope they become a normal part of your pre-flight planning!


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