President Biden signed the NOTAM Improvement Act into law over the weekend, which requires the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to establish a task force to provide recommendations for improvement of the agency’s Notices to Air Missions (NOTAM) system.

A NOTAM system outage at the FAA earlier this year caused the agency to pause all flights nationwide, delaying thousands of flights in the U.S. and triggering the first nationwide ground-stop since Sept. 11, 2001.

Lawmakers worked quickly to introduce the NOTAM Improvement Act, which requires the task force to:

  • Review existing methods for publishing NOTAMs and flight operations information for pilots;
  • Review regulations, policies, systems, and international standards relating to NOTAMs, including their content and presentation to pilots;
  • Evaluate and determine best practices to organize, prioritize, and present flight operations information in a manner that optimizes pilot review and retention of relevant information;
  • Provide recommendations to improve the publication and delivery of NOTAM information; and
  • Report to Congress on its reviews and evaluations.

The bill also tasks FAA to complete by Sept. 30, 2024 implementation of a revamped Federal NOTAM system, and a back-up system. The FAA also will be required to brief Congress on a plan to enhance information delivery through this Federal system to promote further global harmonization and provide users of the National Airspace System a consistent format for domestic and international operations.

Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., spearheaded the bipartisan legislation that was signed into law by President Biden on June 3.

“Failures of the NOTAM system earlier this month stressed the need to upgrade the program to ensure the safety of pilots, their crews and passengers,” Rep. Stauber said in a statement from January. “I’ve heard from many pilots over the years about the vulnerabilities of the NOTAM system.”

The FAA attributed the major system outage that caused the agency to pause flights nationwide on January 11 to a contractor who had “unintentionally deleted files.” Despite the lack of malicious intent or a cyberattack, the nationwide disruption left lawmakers concerned with the age of the legacy system – which dates back to the 1990s.

“Travelers in the United States deserve safe and dependable air travel service, not nationwide ground stops caused by system failures. By upgrading and modernizing the FAA’s NOTAM system, our bipartisan legislation would improve aviation safety and prevent system outages from derailing travel,” Sen. Klobuchar said in a statement.

The new law comes at a time when the agency lacks a permanent leader. The acting head of the FAA, Billy Nolen, announced his plans to leave the agency this summer, with no clear successor in sight as the agency is due for reauthorization by Congress, and as it continues to work on necessary technology upgrades.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.