All right on the night


As aviation professionals, we all have the obligation to speak up and question when something doesn’t seem right, or not what you expect. NOTAMs are issued frequently, which can easily cause confusion for both controllers and flight crew as they are often a deviation to normal operating procedures.

In July 2017, at approximately 1332 UTC, a runway incursion at Sydney occurred, where an aircraft was assigned and departed from runway 34L, despite the runway being unavailable due to works in progress as advised by NOTAM.

At the time of the occurrence, the following NOTAM was in place:

In preparing for the departure, the flight crew had reviewed the NOTAMs and the weather, which showed that the wind was coming from 330 degrees at 15 knots and was therefore too strong to depart off 16R within the tailwind limitations of the aircraft. The flight crew contacted the tower and were advised that 25 would be available.

Once ready for departure, the flight crew contacted the tower to request their airways clearance. At this point the flight crew were offered 16R, which was declined as the wind was above the tailwind limit for the aircraft and 25 was requested. In response, the tower offered 25 or 34L to which the flight crew responded they were happy with whatever was easier. The tower advised that due to works in progress that 34L would be quicker.

The aircraft taxied to 34L and after ensuring there was sufficient runway length, departed without incident.

It was not until after the aircraft departed that the tower became aware of the incident when Sydney Departures questioned them regarding an aircraft departing from 34L.

The tower advised that they had reviewed the briefing information for their shift and completed the handover/takeover but had missed that departures from 34L were not available.

The flight crew later reported that they were aware the 34L had been unavailable for departures, but when it was offered by the tower the flight crew assumed that the NOTAM had changed or been cancelled.

While the aircraft departed without incident, the consequences could have been much worse.

This occurrence highlights the importance to both controllers and flight crew to read, understand and follow NOTAMs, which hold important operational and safety information. It also highlights the importance of speaking up and questioning when something is not as you expect.


  1. A good reminder of NOTAM fatigue – considering this is the standard curfew NOTAM and is active every night from 1300z. Subtle changes are easily missed. More likely a memory lapse than an incorrectly understood NOTAM in my humble opinion.

    • The actions of the departing crew in this report were entirely appropriate.

      it is reasonable for crew to rely on clearances assigned by air traffic control unless there are operational reasons to reject that clearance. The crew’s response to questioning that “they were aware the 34L had been unavailable for departures, but when it was offered by the tower the flight crew assumed that the NOTAM had changed or been cancelled.”

      Perhaps it might have been prudent for the crew to query the currency of the NOTAM before accepting the offer of RWY 34L, but still, it is entirely appropriate that they accepted the clearances issued by the tower controller.

      Pilots are required to comply with ATC clearances, and accordingly it is incumbent upon ATC to ensure that issued clearances are safe, taking into account all possible scenarios which might affect the aircraft concerned.

      The opinion offered by Rhys above are absolutely correct, but somewhat irrelevant in this case.

      • Certainly “Pilots are required to comply with ATC clearances” – PROVIDED that it is safe to do so; ultimately, the pilot (not ATC) is responsible for the safety of the aircraft. Had the aircraft crashed and burned on take-off, it would’ve made for a lovely ‘swiss-cheese’ analysis: “yes, ATC was ‘at fault’, but had the crew queried the NOTAM, they would have closed the hole in their layer and prevented the (hypothetical) accident.”

  2. Syd is always a joke with pages & pages of Notams. Fatigued crew which is common despite what the management of these Co’s say (FRM, pony poo!!!) are left wide open here for an incident exactly like this. The guys in the tower are also human & subject to fatigue. Let this be a lesson that Syd Airport the backwater of Australia for efficiency needs a major overhaul B4 we see bodies scattered all over the place!

  3. This is not a lot different from the NOTAM overload presented by most flight planning software. Going from a GA airport to some GA airport 100 – 200 NM away? Get NOTAMS for Singapore and the rest of the world when briefing online. It seems like an easy software ‘fix’ to limit NOTAM searches that appear when pre-flighting with an EFB to a reasonable distance of the requested course centerline… The pilot/crew should always have the option to widen the search, but really… How does NOTAM vomitus contribute in any positive way to safety?

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