Responding to questions about what all the changes to the braking reporting system means to pilots and airport operators, the FAA published Draft Change 1 to AC 150/5200-30D, Airport Field Condition Assessments and Winter Operations Safety. The updated AC guides airport operators, although much of the information will also interest pilots because their safety depends on their knowledge and understanding the new Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA) programs. The industry has only until this Friday, January 13 to comment on the changes however, so read on.
The Seven Principal Changes
1. Airports will not report a Wet runway when a Slippery When Wet NOTAM is in effect
As part of pavement maintenance, airports conduct a friction survey to make sure it meets minimum prescribed values for skid resistance. If the pavement meets or exceeds this minimum value, when its Wet, according to the Runway Condition Assessment Matrix, it gets a Runway Condition Code (RwyCC) of 5, which stands for Good braking action. (The Runway Condition Codes replaces Mu values and indicate braking action, which is based on the Runway Condition Matrix that is based on the type and depth of precipitation.)
If the pavement does not meet the minimum friction requirements, the entire runway is Slippery When Wet, and it starts with a Runway Condition Code of (RwyCC) of 3, which means the braking action is Medium. As Mother Nature makes additional wintery deposits on a Slippery When Wet runway, the airport must downgrade the entire runway with a RwyCC of a lower value, 2 or 1 (braking action is medium-to-poor or poor respectively).
2. Emphasizing the unacceptable aspects of reporting friction (Mu) values to pilots
Airports still use Mu friction values for some things, such as friction surveys after pavement maintenance and determining the effectiveness of “friction-enhancing treatments” (such as putting urea on ice or brooming the snow off a grooved runway), but the FAA says reporting Mu number to pilots “is no longer acceptable” because there has been “no consistent, useable correlation between Mu values” and braking action.
3. Describing when a Wet condition report is associated with other winter contaminants
Airports will report the runway as “Wet” when water 1/8-inch (3 mm) or less “is the only condition present on the runway.” The same applies to taxiways, aprons, and holding bays. Airports will also report the surface as ‘Wet’ conditions when other winter contaminants, or chemicals applied, appear in any particular third of the runway.
4. Explaining how airports generates their runway surface condition reports
A single runway surface condition report, generated for each active runway, allows pilots to identify Mother Nature’s winter “contaminants” on each third of the runway and understand how each will most affect aircraft performance. The new AC says, “Reporting from both ends of the same runway may cause confusion to pilots by advertising two sets of Runway Condition Codes for the same surface. This redundancy also unnecessarily clutters the NOTAM system which also adversely affect pilots.”
Airports must update runway condition reports any time there is a change in the runway surface, this includes the airport’s efforts to improve the runway conditions, which could lead to a higher RwyCC. The takeaway for pilots is that they should monitor an airport’s Field Condition (FICON) NOTAMs for updates and changes for the best information.
6. Clarifying Use of Conditions Not Monitored NOTAMs
When a small airport’s staff, weary of fighting Mother Nature, needs some sleep, they’ll issue a “Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM, which includes the last field condition reported before going to bed. In this situation, airports should not use an Airport Unattended NOTAM as a substitute because it conveys inaccurate news about whether or not the airport staff, ATC, FBOs, and other airport services are available. When seeing “Airport Unattended” while planning a winter flight, prudence suggests a confirmation phone call to the destination’s FBO or airport operator.
7. Time is the difference between “Conditions Not Monitored” and “Surface Conditions Not Reported” NOTAMs
When the staff at a small airport is unable to report changes in the field conditions because they are getting some much needed sleep, they should issue a “Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM with the expectation that after a short nap, they will return to work and resume reporting the airport field conditions. If, for some reason, the airport staff is unable to report airport conditions for 24 hours of more, the airport should issue a “Surface (SFC) Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM that covers the entirety of their absence.
A caveat for pilots: If an airport has published in its Airport Master Record a set schedule when it will not monitor conditions, like weekends or National Holidays, it does not have to issue a “SFC Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM. In other words, to avoid being caught unaware in winter, when flight planning to smaller airports, always check the destination’s Airport Master Record for the pertinent schedule.