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Training Tip: Destination unknownTraining Tip: Destination unknown

The sky was dark and the Piper PA–28-180 single-engine airplane was low on fuel when the pilot attempted to contact air traffic control for permission to land at an airport that was under a temporary flight restriction, but still accessible with ATC’s authorization, according to a notice to airmen.

Piper Cherokee 180 photo by Mike Fizer.

Unfortunately, the pilot’s plan had a glitch, as you learn upon reading an account of the flight’s complicated conclusion: “The TFR stated that transit operations were allowed only if a discrete code was assigned by air traffic control (ATC) before the airplane’s departure. The pilot mistakenly thought he could pick up the discrete code while airborne.”

And so begins your ground lesson on cross-country flight planning, a session your CFI emphasized would concentrate on gathering and interpreting notams for your home airport, the destination, and any airports that might serve as alternate landing places in an emergency.

Don’t skip looking over notams for airports that serve as emergency alternates—which brings us back to the flight scenario above.

The pilot’s next move was to divert.

Unfortunately, “During the approach, the airplane struck high tension power lines about 1 mile south of the runway,” the National Transportation Safety Board accident report said. “Further, according to an applicable notice to airmen, the airport that the pilot diverted to was closed when the accident occurred.”

When it comes to staying clear of the power lines, think of notams as falling into three categories: Notams you know, notams you don’t, and a particularly irksome kind we'll call nonexistent notams, because they won’t appear until something happens to highlight the need.

Notams you know won’t immunize you from hazard unless you proceed accordingly. Notams you don’t know, or that haven’t been posted yet, won’t automatically ruin your day, although they do raise risk. (Night landings to runways with obstructions are familiar components in such cases.)

Invest some ground-study time in gathering up the current list of notams for your airports of interest, then go over every detail.

Interpreting the notams may require research. For example, you’ll impress your flight instructor if you can translate this notam: TWY A BTN JOINT USE PRKG RAMP AND TWY L WIP CONST ADJ EAST SIDE 1802261507-1804302100.

But where’s practical value if you can’t locate the “joint-use parking ramp” on the airport diagram (where it doesn’t appear, at least by that name)?

Learn notams' details, thereby avoiding taxiing into an airport construction site, or tangling with a TFR.

Do you find notams tricky to read? Share your thoughts at

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Training, Student, Notams
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