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A New Pilot’s Guide to NOTAMS





In this article we’re going to dive deep into NOTAMS, or Notices to Air Missions.

FAR Part 91.103 states that a pilot must “become familiar with all available information concerning that flight,” and that’s a lot of information!

We all know to check weather briefings and check the aircraft. But how are we supposed to know if things are happening or changing at the airport we want to fly to or if a NAVAID is broken along the way? 

This is where NOTAMs come in. These are advisories issued by the FAA to notify users of the National Airspace System that something has changed and it’s not on the charts or in the chart supplement. 

Let’s take a look at NOTAMs, including how to read them and how to find them. 

What Are NOTAMs?

NOTAMs are Notices to Air Missions.

The FAA issues them for time-sensitive or temporary matters that affect all users of the air space system but have not otherwise been published on your charts or chart supplements.

They were called Notices to Airmen until recently.

Generally, NOTAMs concern the establishment, condition, or changes to any component of the airspace system, including facilities like airports and NAVAIDs, services, procedures, or hazards.

NOTAMs represent important things you need to know about your flight before you depart, so they’re an integral part of getting a good pre-flight briefing.

Pilot Guide to NOTAMs

You can easily search for NOTAMs on the FAA website’s NOTAM search tool or get them from a flight briefer.  

Several changes have been made to the NOTAM system in recent years to bring it up to international ICAO standards. 

Aviation Basics

Just starting your aviation journey? Check out our basics of flying articles to learn the essentials. Or take a look at our article on the basic parts of an airplane.

How To Read a NOTAM

Learning how to read a NOTAM is an essential skill a new pilot must learn quickly.

The first few letters of a NOTAM indicate what facility is responsible for issuing it, called the accountability location.

It may be a flight service station, airport, or Center. Other accountability locations include GPS (Global Positioning System), FDC (Flight Data Center), SUA (Special Use Airspace), and CARF (Central Altitude Reservation Function).

This is followed by a number for filing the NOTAM in the format of MM/NNN.

The MM is the month of issue, and the NNN is a number between 001 and 199.

While the accountability and filing numbers are important for organizations, they don’t possess much information of use to a pilot. 

The important stuff for pilots starts at the third item of the NOTAM, where there is a location for the NOTAM. If it’s an airport or NAVAID, it will use the FAA code for that location.

If it’s for AIRSPACE, it might be indicated by the ARTCC’s (Center’s) identifier.

Next, there is a keyword to tell you what it’s talking about. Here are twenty different keywords, each representing the sort of NOTAM you are looking at. These tell you quickly what exactly is being affected.

  • RWY — Runway
  • IAP — Instrument Approach Procedures
  • VFP — Visual Flight Procedures
  • DVA — Diverse Vector Area
  • TWY — Taxiway
  • APRON — Ramps and areas of airport surfaces aside from runways and taxiways
  • AD — Aerodrome (entire airport)
  • OBST — Obstacles
  • NAV — Navigation, like a VOR that’s out of service (OTS)
  • COM — Communication
  • SVC — Services, like changes in the operating times of a control tower
  • ODP — Obstacle Departure Procedure
  • SID — Standard Instrument Departure
  • STAR — Standard Terminal Arrival Route
  • AIRSPACE — Things happening in the air, like parachute jumping, aerobatics, or drone operations
  • ROUTE 
  • CHART 
  • DATA 

The rest of the NOTAM is written to be as self-explanatory as possible—every NOTAM is different.

Unfortunately, abbreviations are used in NOTAMs, which can sometimes make them challenging to read. 

New pilot guide to NOTAMs

Here are some more abbreviations to help you decode a NOTAM. When in doubt, a web search of the abbreviation in question and the word “NOTAM” will usually solve a mystery. Here’s a handy PDF from the FAA with approved NOTAM contractions

OPN — Open

ACT —  Active 

CLSD — Closed

U/S — Unserviceable (formerly OTS, Out of Service)

PJE — Parachute Jumping in Effect

EXC — Except

PPR — Prior Permission Required

LGT — Light

UAS — Unmanned Aerial Systems (drones)

The NOTAM will note a specific location if the affected area is not at an airport or NAVAID. You might see something like the following NOTAM example. 


Decoded, that is a NOTAM issued by Gainsville Flight Service for Jacksonville Center’s Airspace. Parachute jumping is in effect within an area defined as a three-nautical mile radius from a point defined as CEW (Crestview VOR) 080-radial at 024 nautical miles or at 05FJ private airport. The zone extends from the surface to 14,500 feet. Avoidance is advised.

Finally, if a NOTAM has a time constraint (a beginning and an ending time), then it will end in a long string of numbers to set those limits, i.e., YYMMDDTTTT–YYMMDDTTTT, where YY is the year, MM in the month, and TTTT is the time in Zulu/GMT.

What Are the Types of NOTAMs?


NOTAM Ds are for aeronautical facilities, NAVAIDS, services, procedures, or hazards.

Closed airports/runways/taxiways or unserviceable VORs are examples of NOTAM Ds.


The Flight Data Center (FDC) issues NOTAMs for changes to the regulations. These include certain airspace changes or amendments to IAPs (Instrument Approach Procedures for IFR pilots).

Changes to minimum IFR altitudes or TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions) are examples of FDC NOTAMs.


TFR NOTAMS are a special type of FDC NOTAM that issues a Temporary Flight Restriction.

The possible reasons for flight restrictions are listed in the FARs, but the most common involve VIP movements for the President and Vice President, fire-fighting operations over wildfires, and restrictions over major sporting or news-making events. 


FICON stands for field conditions. These NOTAMs are issued to give pilots information about what to expect at an airport on the runways, taxiways, or aprons. For example, they might report ice or slush thickness.

Military NOTAM

The Department of Defense uses its own system for NOTAMs, so if you operate out of joint-use airports, you might need to check both.

What are NOTAMs


CARF NOTAMs deal with altitude reservations. The Central Altitude Reservation Function (CARF) is a separate office within the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center. SUA (Special Use Airspace) NOTAMs are issued when a Restricted, Warning, or Military Operations Area goes active. 


For the purposes of system testing and national security, GPS is sometimes unusable over large geographic areas. When this occurs, a GPS NOTAM will be issued. 

International NOTAM

International NOTAMs are simply those issued by another country, stored in the US NOTAM system for pilots crossing borders.

Further Reading About NOTAMs

The FAA’s website has resources for learning about NOTAMs and what they mean to you. You can also download an FAA presentation that outlines the types of NOTAMs, and, of course, you can look up and read current NOTAMs for your area.

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