If There’s Not A FICON NOTAM, It Doesn’t Mean The Runway Is Dry
- Dan Boedigheimer
Number 2 on our Top 10 list to prevent runway excursions is knowing the actual runway conditions. In runway excursions on a contaminated runway, we often find that the runway conditions were worse than anticipated or reported. I suspect this was the case when a Citation Mustang touched down earlier this month on an icy runway.
It was an early season snow storm in the Midwest where the temperatures hovered near freezing. Thirty-two hours prior to the excursion, a FICON NOTAM was published for RWY 21 FICON 1/1/1 100 PCT ICE OBS. According to the Runway Condition Assessment Matrix (RCAM) Braking Action Codes and Definitions table, this correlates to a braking action of poor. The 5000 foot runway was 100% covered with ice with poor braking. At the time of arrival, the METAR reported the weather conditions as 13008KT 1SM -SN BR FEW009 BKN012 OVC021 00/M02 A2972.
I wonder if the pilot ever saw the NOTAM with the Runway Condition Code (RwyCC). The NOTAM expired 24 hours after it was published and did not show up in the NOTAM report for the airport beginning 8 hours prior to this aircraft's arrival. This pilot probably checked the weather and NOTAMs prior to departure. The forecast included snow, but with no FICON NOTAM published, did the pilot think that implied runway conditions were good?
When researching this runway excursion, I found a NOTAM tool that I was not familiar with. On the FAA NOTAM search page, there is a drop-down menu you can use to search the NOTAM Archives. Searching the day previous to this excursion, the FICON NOTAM for 1/1/1 100 PCT ICE OBS showed up. This is a good tool to see trending information in FICON NOTAMs. If the runway condition was Ice the previous day, temperatures had remained near freezing, and it continued to snow, that is good reason to suspect runway conditions are still poor.
Knowing actual runway conditions when landing is a particular challenge because you typically don't get a detailed look at runway conditions until seconds before you touch down. Night or IMC conditions will delay your visual assessment of actual runway conditions. Increase your suspicion factor when determining if the actual runway conditions match what has been reported. Ask yourself if can you expect the runway condition to be improving or declining since the last report.
If there is no FICON NOTAM published, you can query ATC, UNICOM, or the Airport Manager for more information. Understand that, unless ATC or UNICOM is relaying a RwyCC report, their assessment may not accurately represent actual runway conditions. Use their information as advisory only to supplement other sources of information.
To see the remaining items on our Top 10 list on preventing runway excursions, ask to be enrolled in a demo of our Runway Excursion eLearning module. We update the module with each new business aviation runway excursion, which still occur on a weekly basis. To get enrolled in a demo, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 843-557-1266.