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Get to know letters to airmen

Reading notices to air missions (notams) can be a tedious task for pilots, but it’s probably fair to say that most of us are pretty familiar with them and know how important they are to the safe operation of the national airspace system.

Photo by Rebecca Boone.

However, another source of information, separate from but presented alongside notams, is the letter to airmen or LTA. Based upon numerous interactions with members, AOPA discovered these are unknown to a large portion of the pilot community—both commercial and private.

An LTA is designed to convey more complex information than a simple notam can provide. Many LTAs contain graphics, including airport diagrams showing standard taxi routes, snippets from VFR sectionals denoting training areas, or even Google Earth screenshots illustrating the location of obstacles. Others simply provide textual information in a more narrative format than what is found in notams.

LTAs are generated by air traffic facilities, such as towers, terminal radar approach control rooms, and air route traffic control centers, and are purely informational in nature—in other words, they are not designed to convey mandatory instructions.

The main drawback to LTAs is that they are published in PDF format. This presents a challenge for many flight planning vendors, as they find it difficult to import them for display in their products. ForeFlight began providing them in its application in June and the hope is that more vendors will follow suit.

For those not utilizing ForeFlight, the only other place to find LTAs currently is on the FAA NOTAM Search website. This lack of broad availability is unfortunate, as LTAs provide a wealth of information. AOPA, as part of our work on the 2024 NOTAM Task Force, recommended that the FAA improve both the distribution and format of LTAs.

In the meantime, pilots need to be aware that LTAs exist, what they are intended for, and where to find them.

Jim McClay.
Jim McClay
Director of Airspace, Air Traffic, and Security
Jim McClay joined the AOPA government affairs team having worked for 13 years in the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center. He is an instrument-rated private pilot whose expertise spans a variety of topics including national airspace system operations and emerging technologies.
Topics: Advocacy, FAA Information and Services

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