The first thing all crewmembers need to do is read the TALPA Procedure Preview, TALPA Procedure Review and the individual Pilot Handbook Bulletins for their applicable fleet type. There are a lot of ideas and concepts in these documents and most pilots tend to learn best with hands on experience. That being said, once you experience a real-world event using TALPA, you really should go back and review the documents, as many of those concepts will make much more sense. One term we need you to understand is FICON NOTAM. When you see the acronym FICON, you need to understand that it is a NOTAM and should be in your WX package.
Runway Condition Code (RwyCC) is one product of TALPA, but it is not the only one. In fact, we should all know by now that we cannot use RwyCC for takeoff performance calculations. RwyCC is only to be used for landing.
This has caused some problems within the system as ATC will often list RwyCC on departure ATIS and list no other runway information. Figure 1 shows a recent DEPARTURE ATIS at KBDL. Notice that they give taxiway and ramps contamination, but there is nothing in that ATIS about the RWY contamination. Instead, they put in the RwyCC of 5, 5, 5. This is where problems start for a crew trying to calculate data. Since the FAA has stated we cannot use RwyCC for takeoff, the APS-Takeoff page does not offer RwyCC as a choice. If a crew decided to interpolate the RwyCC to contaminants, they would see (FIGURE 2) that there are multiple contaminants that could be associated with that RwyCC. The KBDL ATIS shows light snow. With the information provided, the crew will have no way of deciding if the RWY is wet, covered in slush, wet snow or dry snow. In short, the crew is merely guessing if they try to interpolate the RwyCC.
RwyCC’s are for landing performance calculations only, whereas contaminant type and depth is used for takeoff performance calculations. This does not preclude the use of contaminant type and depth for landing when the contaminate coverage is ≤25% of the runway surface.
Manufacturer data, created for specific pairing with RwyCC levels, only take braking into consideration (with and without reverse thrust). It does not take contaminate impingement drag into account as a conservative measure. However, due to the complexities of accelerate-go and accelerate-stop, takeoff calculations do take all drag factors into account. Because of this, it is not appropriate to use RwyCC reports for takeoff.
So, what is the crew supposed to do? Should they find phone numbers for airport operations or ground control? Maybe they can pick up the microphone and ask ground. While those are viable options, our crews that have tried that during snow events in KORD and KBOS have been met with less than stellar results from the harried personnel on the other end of the line.
Remember those FICON NOTAMS? Those are also a product of TALPA. By the time you get your weather package, head out to the jet, finish preflight and deal with all of the delays that winter weather causes, your NOTAM package can be several hours old. With that in mind, we will need to communicate with our dispatchers to ensure they send us the latest FICON NOTAM information. You can call them or ask for a hard copy over the ACARS. Using the ACARS will ensure you have a copy of the actual FICON NOTAM and reduce the chance for misinterpretations.
Some crewmembers have expressed that they didn’t want to “bother” their dispatcher. Remember, that dispatcher is part of the crew and has joint release authority. We are obligated to talk to them and they are obligated to talk to us. They are going to be far more receptive to our queries than the local snowplow driver or the overloaded ground controller.
Medium Is the New Fair
Braking action of Fair is gone. All of those crosswind limits we’ve memorized for Fair have been changed. Medium is the new term. Additionally, you no longer need to memorize the crosswinds limits, the APS will provide the most current manufacturer data. Cognitively, you may hear “medium” and think, “not that bad.” The same may happen when you hear an RwyCC of 3. In Figure 3, you can see the contaminants that can be associated with both RwyCC 3 and Medium. The description of braking action and directional control should also get your attention. We can probably agree that those conditions aren’t that great. In fact, if you compare Figures 2 and 3, you will see there is a marked difference in the distinction of equal to 1/8” and greater than 1/8.” There is quite a penalty that will be applied. Figures 4 and 5 show the impact of selecting >1/8” when in fact the FICON said 1/8.”
Figure 4 Results with >1/8" Snow
Figure 5 Results with ≤ 1/8" Snow
Takeoff RWY CND selected not available
If you’ve ever seen the message displayed in Figure 6, you have probably been frustrated and wondered why that selection is even there. The reason the condition is not available is that the aircraft manufacturer doesn’t have data for that condition. That condition is available in the performance software for a common APS user interface for all fleets, and if the FICON NOTAM or ATIS is listing that contaminant, the crew will not be frustrated when they can’t find it as a selection. Takeoff is not authorized if this is the only information you have. In this situation, you will need an updated FICON NOTAM or a braking action PIREP.
It is also interesting to note that we should not be seeing “patchy” or “patches” listed as a contaminant any longer.
Each fleet has been issued a bulletin that explains the new crosswind limits for your airplane. While the FCIF that notified us of those bulletins may have expired, those bulletins are now a part of the PHB and are valid until incorporated into the PHB or rescinded.
Additionally, the APS crosswind limits are accurate, up to date and valid for the entered conditions. As such, we cannot use Quick Reference Landing Data when FICON NOTAMS are being reported and issued.
PIREPS and braking action reports are still going to be an important tool for the crew to use when assessing the conditions. If crews are reporting conditions that are significantly better or worse than the latest FICON NOTAMs, we can and should take that into account when making our GO/NO GO decision. Additionally, if you are asked for a PIREP, do not report a RwyCC. Use the old familiar braking action terms (except don’t use FAIR).
The goal is to have an accurate picture of runway conditions, FICON-NOTAM 3 hours old or PIREPs from valid aircraft that are more recent. Which one is more accurate?
If it seems we’ve spent many words and pages on the takeoff problem, we have. One of the reasons is, that is where we have seen the majority of issues. However, there have been some problems on the arrival side of the house.
The primary issues have come in when crews are presented with a RwyCC that shows a lower number in the first third of the runway, such as 3/5/5. Since we can only select a single RwyCC in the APS, which one would apply? Considering that braking will mostly occur in the second and third thirds, RwyCC 5 would be a reasonable choice. Notice in Figures 7 and 8 the difference in selecting RwyCC 3 vs. 5 when MEM is landing north.
Figure 7 RwyCC 3
Keep in mind, as we previously noted, that the FICON NOTAM you have might be hours old and in need of an update, particularly in changing conditions. The FICON NOTAM is issued for 24 hours, so you need to pay attention to the actual observation time. Below is an example from the recent snow event in MEM:
MEM 01/050 MEM RWY 36R FICON 3/3/3 100 PRCT 1/4IN DRY SN OBSERVED AT 1701061252. 1701061252-1701071252
Remember to keep your dispatcher in the loop and ask them for an updated FICON NOTAM. Updated information may prevent you from attempting an unsafe landing or performing and unnecessary divert.
With that in mind, a more recent PIREP should also be factored into your decision-making. Give due consideration to the type of aircraft that generated that report.
Finally, when calculating landing data, ensure you make the appropriate selection in the LANDING drop down window. This makes sure that the APS applies the correct crosswind limits for CAT I/CAT II/CAT III and AUTOLAND.