What are NOTAMs and How Do They Impact Drone Operations?

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A Quick Guide to Using NOTAMs as a Remote Pilot

The NOTAM system is the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Notice to Air Missions, which is used to send out real-time alerts to pilots, air traffic controllers, and flight crews regarding flight conditions - including any potentially hazardous concerns that could impose safety risks during flight. The recent outage of the FAA's NOTAM system has triggered several questions about the service, its use, history, and purpose. 

We want to briefly answer some of those questions and explain how NOTAMs can impact drone operations.


Why NOTAMs Are Important

While NOTAMs are typically of an advisory nature, it is important for all pilots - including remote operators - to check NOTAMs prior to flight. The FAA offers a website where you can customize your NOTAMs search: https://notams.aim.faa.gov/notamSearch

Screenshot of NOTAMs Search Webpage

The FAA sectionals are updated every 56 days, so if there is an update between publication cycles, pilots find out about it through NOTAMs. Though drone pilots are not required to submit information to file NOTAMs under Part 107, it is common courtesy and best practice to do so in order to let other pilots operating in the same airspace know about your flight plan. 

There are several different types of NOTAMs and you should be aware of and have an understanding of them before operating within national airspace. 

NOTAMS, TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions), and LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) may impact drone operations, so UAS pilots should always check for them as part of a routine, pre-flight site survey.

A NOTAM will designate if a TFR is in place. The NOTAM begins with the phrase "FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS" and includes:

  • Location of temporary restriction
  • Effective time period
  • Area defined in statute miles
  • FAA coordination facility and phone number
  • Reason for the restriction
  • Any additional information deemed appropriate 


Who Issues NOTAMs?

The general public cannot file an official NOTAM. Instead, you can advise the local Flight Service Station (FSS) of any special event or circumstances. 

To request a NOTAM, call Flight Services at (877)-487-6867. On initial contact with the Flight Service Briefer, let them know that you would like to file a NOTAM for small UAS operations.

Be sure to have the below details ready for the Briefer:

  • Date of Operation(s)
  • Time of Operation (Local Time)
  • Location of Operation (Degrees/Minutes/Seconds)
  • Distance and Heading to Nearest Airport
  • Operation Altitude
  • Operational Radius
  • Number of UAS Being Operated

The Briefer will provide a NOTAM reference number. The reference number is important to keep track of so you can share it with Flight Services again in case any changes occur to your flight plan. The NOTAM reference number expires after 30 days.


When to Report a NOTAM

It is courteous to reach out to Flight Services 24-48 hours in advance of a UAS operation.

If something changes in your flight plan, you should call to let FSS know about the change - whether that is to cancel a mission, add days, or amend timeframes. If you are amending an existing NOTAM, make sure you have the NOTAM reference number available to share with the Flight Services Briefer.

Remember, it is vital to review NOTAMs prior to flight, and though not required to request an official NOTAM be filed for your UAS operation, it is always the best practice. This is especially important when flying a drone in busy airspace. We recommend adding this step to your pre-flight checklist to help you get in the habit of reviewing NOTAMs and submitting your flight plan to Flight Services each time you pilot a UAV.


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Posted in Drone Safety, UAV Pilot, Drone Pilot, Aviation, UAS Pilot, Flight Operations, sUAS Flight Operator, National Airspace System