Runway Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA)
The braking action report for the runway you are about to land on is 5/3/2. Is that good? Is it Bad? What are runway braking action codes and what exactly do they mean??
The other day I was flying on a snowy afternoon and the controller said the braking action was “medium”. I remember thinking to myself “when did we change from “fair” to “medium”? Well, I’m ashamed to say that the switch happened in 2016 when the FAA updated the way they issue runway braking action reports! Those confusing MU values are now gone and a new system that takes a lot of the guesswork out of deciphering the numbers has taken its place.
I realize that this may be old news to some (most?), but it never hurts to have a little review of seasonal operating practices, so here we go….
In the new system, airport operators use a Runway Condition Assessment Matrix (RCAM) to categorize runway conditions. The pilot then uses the matrix to interpret the runway conditions. The airport operator will assess surfaces, report contaminants present and determine the numerical runway condition codes (RwyCC) based on the RCAM.
The runway braking action codes RwyCC system uses 7 numbers, from zero to six. As you would imagine, zero is bad, while six is good. The numbers are issued for each third of the runway: touchdown, midpoint and rollout, hence the 5/3/2 format.
The FAA has provided a chart with explanations for each value – in this example 5 means the braking action at touchdown is good, the midpoint is medium and the rollout is medium to poor. In putting this in practice, it would be to your advantage to land in the touchdown zone then get on the brakes and/or reverse in the first half of the runway before the braking action deteriorates.
As for the terminology, the old system used the words good, fair, poor and nil. The NEW system uses good, MEDIUM, poor and nil, or a combination of those. While I’m not sure why that change was important, someone must have thought it was (yes, to harmonize with ICAO terminology…old dog, new tricks…).
Speaking of “NIL” braking, you should not be hearing that report anymore. The FAA says it is no longer acceptable for an airport to report a braking action of “NIL” because “NIL” conditions on any surface – runway OR taxiway – require closure of that surface until the braking action is at least poor or better.
Operating on slick taxiways and runways still requires the best judgement of the PIC, but the new runway braking action codes will certainly help in the decision making process. Being able to reference the Braking Action Chart and keeping your speed right on the money for slippery landings will go a long way toward keeping you (and your passengers) safe during marginal weather conditions.