Runway Condition Assessment Matrix (RCAM)
Beginning October 1, 2016, the FAA required all federally-obligated airports nationwide, such as the Bethel Regional Airport, to begin using new procedures when reporting runway conditions whenever the runway is not dry. The new procedures, known as The Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA) aims to reduce the risk of runway overruns by providing airport operators with a method to accurately and consistently determine the runway condition when a paved runway is not dry. This information enables airplane operators, pilots, and flight planners to determine the distance required to stop on a wet or contaminated paved runway in a more accurate way.
Airports will use TALPA procedures to conduct runway assessments and to report those conditions in formatted Field Condition (FICON) Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs). This will allow pilots and flight planners to use the information, along with manufacturer's aircraft-specific data, to determine the runway length needed to safely stop an aircraft after a rejected takeoff or a landing. Airports now utilize a “Runway Condition Assessment Matrix" (RCAM) developed by the FAA to determine runway condition codes for each third of each end of the runway, and submit those condition reports/codes to airmen through official NOTAMS. Runway Condition Codes (RwyCC) will have a value ranging from 0 to 6. Depending on the contamination on the runway (rain, snow, ice, water, etc) combined with the ambient temperature, RCAM will calculate a RwyCC for each runway, broken down into each third of the runway surface (touchtone, midpoint and rollout). As a result of these procedures, airport operators are now required to close any affected surface whenever the RwyCC results in a 0 value, until the conditions are improved to at least a value of 1 naturally or through treatment efforts. A dry runway condition will have a RwyCC of 6 while a runway contaminated with wet ice, slush over ice, water over compacted snow, or dry snow or wet snow over ice in most circumstances will result in a RwyCC of 0 (zero) and result in a runway closure.
An example of a FICON (field condition) report observed at September 5, 2016 at 1815 Zulu (the old format) describing less than 1/8th" patchy dry snow with portions of the runway containing patches of dry snow over packed snow:
0B1 RWY 14/32 FICON THIN PTCHY DRY SN OVR PTCHY PACKED SN BA FAIR OBSERVED AT 201609051815
With the new procedures effective October 1, 2016, the same condition report would look like this:
0B1 RWY 14 FICON 5/5/3 60 PRCT 1/8IN DRY SN, 60 PRCT 1/8IN DRY SN, 60 PRCT COMPACTED SN OBSERVED AT 1609051814
Some of the new changes the in FICON NOTAM include a Runway Condition Code (RwyCC). In the above example, the Runway Condition Assessment Matrix (RCAM) calculates a RwyCC for each third of the runway (touchdown, midpoint and rollout). In the above example, the RwyCC is 5/5/3 - a value for each third of the runway. For 1/8th inch or less of dry snow on a runway, the old method called the depth "thin". The new method refers to it as "1/8IN" (1/8th inch or less). Next, rather than using the term "PTCHY" (patchy) to describe that 25% or less of the runway is covered, the new procedures required airport operators to determine a percentage of each section of the runway that is actually contaminated. In the above example, the first third or touchdown portion of the runway is 60% contaminated with 1/8th inch or less of dry snow, the second third of the runway or midpoint portion is also 60% contaminated with 1/8th inch or less of dry snow, but the third third of the runway or the rollout portion is 60% contaminated with compacted snow. For these contaminations as given, the RCAM calculated the RwyCC as being a value of 5 for the first third, a value of 5 for the second third, but a value of 3 for the third third. The RwyCC of 3 was derived because of the different type of contamination (compacted snow as opposed to just dry snow) and the ambient temperature being warmer than -15 degrees C. The lower the RwyCC, the slipperier the runway can be expected, and thus the more runway is needed for the landing rollout. These codes, in combination with the description and percentage of coverage of contamination(s) can be used by the pilot/operator to determine whether landing or takeoff is safe and/or whether additional performance calculations in accordance with the aircraft's Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) is required.
The old method only reported the worst of contamination on a given runway, but did not specify which portion of the runway was affected. The new procedure provides more specific information for each runway and provides the pilot a better and more complete picture of actual conditions and how that may affect the performance of the aircraft.
Bethel Regional Airport complies with these new procedures. When the runway is WET, this condition is not reported during Spring, Summer or Fall months.
Another significant change is about braking action reports and MU readings. While these reports will no longer be published in NOTAMS, braking action reports and MU readings will be used in the RCAM process to determine the appropriate RwyCC. Also, when reporting braking action reports to airport management or ATC, the term "FAIR" will be replaced by the term "MEDIUM". Pilot reported braking action can now be described as GOOD, GOOD TO MEDIUM, MEDIUM, MEDIUM TO POOR, POOR and NIL.
Another significant change is that the TALPA requires that for surface with a RwyCC of 0 (zero) or the equivalence of a pilot's braking report of NIL, that surface be CLOSED and not reopened until the airport operator/management is satisfied that the NIL braking condition no longer exists.