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With the length of flights in this day and age, it is possible for an activity to be published in a NOTAM, that NOTAM to be disseminated via the NOTAM system, and the activity to start taking place after a flight whose PIC should have received that NOTAM took off! Take for instance a by-NOTAM restricted area activation with the minimum 4 hour advance notice, and a 777 whose crew flightplanned through the restricted area based on it being "cold" at the time they briefed their flight, which was oh, another 4 hours before the NOTAM for activating said restricted area was put out. Keep in mind that the 777 crew took off 2 hours before the restricted area was activated...

How is the flight crew of our hypothetical 777 supposed to find out that the restricted area they were told was cold during their preflight briefing is now hot? (Of course, this applies to other kinds of NOTAMs as well, some of which can pop up with even less notice; for instance, a mishap-induced runway closure could occur at any time, and a long-haul flight crew would probably rather get that memo before they seek a landing clearance!)

Also, assume this is in US airspace.

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In the case of the 777 (or any flight operating on an IFR flight plan) it is ATC's (and the pilot's) responsibility to vector the flight around restricted airspace. In the event of pop-up NOTAM's, ATC will do their best to inform you, especially on an IFR flight plan. The key is you should be talking to somebody, or at least listening in. I have a feeling though that you want a little more...

Flight Information Services (FIS-B) provides weather, text, graphical weather, NOTAMs, ATIS and other information to aircraft in flight over the UAT link. ADS-B (ADS-B Out mandated for all aircraft in controlled airspace by 2020 in the US) will be able to provide similar data to aircraft in flight all the way down to small GA (if they have ADS-B In capabilities, or ADS-B receivers like Stratus).

So the crew of your hypothetical 777 will be notified multiple ways:

  • ATC will notify them about the need to vector around restricted airspace.
  • ATC will notify them about the closure of an entire destination airport as filed
  • NOTAMs will pop up on the FIS-B display in the cockpit
  • The ATIS or automated information broadcast will be updated to include NOTAM'd airport or runways
  • Crew will see the FIS-B display when they check destination airport weather/closures enroute
  • At the very least, ATC will notify the flight on approach ("Airport is currently closed, please continue to the filed alternate" or something like that)

Now, on the flip side let's say that you are a J-3 Cub with no radio humming around to your local uncontrolled field. The field was just closed due to a water buffalo migration and NOTAM'd out of service until the beasts can be removed from the property. You are on a 5 mile final and all the water buffalo are hiding in the woods next to the runway...

If you land you've violated the NOTAM and airport closure. This may warrant a call to your FSDO but you will probably be able to explain that the NOTAM wasn't active or identified prior to departure and they'll let you off (and the next thing you should do is go buy a handheld radio). At the very least you should make a report in the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) in case somebody raises concerns.

Either way if possible the FAA recommends a 4 hour minimum notification time for closures that can be planned. Why 4 hours? Most GA aircraft have about a 4 hour endurance and most domestic flights are less than 4 hours long. Obviously not everything can be planned, but ATC will work with aircraft in flight to disseminate the information as required.

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    $\begingroup$ Small correction: ADS-B In is not part of the 2020 requirement, just ADS-B out $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Nov 30 '16 at 19:26
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    $\begingroup$ Another small correction: It isn't only ATC's responsibility to keep airplanes out of restricted airspace, it's a joint responsibility between ATC and the pilot (hence the question being very valid). See Can you bust a TFR while operating under IFR?. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Dec 1 '16 at 1:09
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW Thanks, I clarified. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Dec 1 '16 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger Thanks, again, clarified. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Dec 1 '16 at 2:19
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If you call for a briefing, you're out of luck, but if you get a briefing online using Leidos Flight Services (formerly Lockheed Martin), you can easily solve this problem by registering for briefing updates.

Image of Leidos briefing updates button

Once you've done so, you can choose which elements will trigger an email or text message notification sent to you as soon as any elements of your briefing change. Image of Leidos briefing updates options screen

I use this feature constantly - it's terrific.

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  • $\begingroup$ The body of the question asks about NOTAMs that come out between a briefing and takeoff, but the question title asks about NOTAMs that come out in flight. This answer covers the former. $\endgroup$ – Steve V. Nov 30 '16 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ My intent was to ask about NOTAMs that come out in flight -- I clarified the example scenario in the question. $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Nov 30 '16 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ This answer could be an answer to either question, depending on internet access in flight. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Dec 1 '16 at 5:22
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Unless the aircraft were on a VFR flight and not in contact with ATC during any part of that flight, ATC would notify them and vector them around the obstacle.

That's why they're there after all... If he were VFR and out of contact with the world, even unicom/guard, the only way to contact him would be through another aircraft pulling up alongside and forcing him to change course. But flying VFR without contacting ATC into controlled airspace is a big nono as is, so he'd be in trouble regardless of whether there was an airspace restriction on top of the existing airspace rules in place at the time.

Think Mathias Rust and his silly flight to Moscow for a prime example of the latter scenario. The Soviet air force tried and failed to intercept him (the reason for that failure is political, and irrelevant here), but on landing he was arrested and his aircraft impounded. Expect something similar to happen to your idiot pilot who flies e.g. into New York restricted airspace, whether there is a further restriction in place that day or not.

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There is on one way to get the latest on the spot NOTAMS the instant they are published. If an aircraft has WiFi and the flight crew periodically obtains NOTAMS throughout the flight is one way. Critical and pertinent NOTAMS may also be passed along to controllers who will disseminate them to pilots operating in airspace affected by a NOTAM.

Due to the capricious nature of VIP TFRs or other critical NOTAMS, the FAA is generally forgiving if a pilots has conducted a competent preflight and researched applicable NOTAMS to his/her flight prior to departure. I talked with an F-22 pilot a couple of years back who had some experience chasing errant bugsmashers out of TFRs. His advice for legal CYA: ALWAYS call flight service an drew request a standard flight briefing, including a NOTAM briefing prior to flight. You now have a permanent record that there was no knowledge of a NOTAM affecting your planned flight and that can be used as evidence in court.

As for the 777 example you listed above, it is almost certainly going to be operated under IFR rules and will be under the control of ATC who can grant you clearance to enter a restricted area; it's their hinder that's in a sling if it goes SNAFU, and not yours.

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    $\begingroup$ "If an aircraft has WiFi", no... if the aircraft has Internet connection rather. $\endgroup$ – mins Nov 30 '16 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ mins.......really? $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Nov 30 '16 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ WiFi is for the local area network, like wired Ethernet. The connection of the LAN to an Internet access point is not done using WiFi, but generally satellite communication gateway (technically to a POP for Internet point of presence). See this. $\endgroup$ – mins Nov 30 '16 at 7:54
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling: The actual name of the protocol described in RFC 1149 is IPoAC. However IPoAC is not compatible with aircraft, it is known to interfere with engines. $\endgroup$ – mins Nov 30 '16 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ @mins Yeah, RFC 1149 was a bit tongue in cheek. I figured I'd throw it in and see if anyone noticed. (That said, I have little doubt that the exact same infrastructure could be used as a transport layer for other protocols as well.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Nov 30 '16 at 20:28

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