What is a NOTOC?

When flying, you might have observed how cargo was loaded into the belly of your aircraft. You might have seen all different types of cargo, some with special labels indicating some danger or maybe even a live animal such as a dog or a cat. Have you ever been concerned about the in-flight safety of “knowing” what was loaded below you? Or have you worried about the animals in the dark and cold hold? For all this, the NOTOC is in place.

The NOtification TO Captain (NOTOC) is an essential document for the flight crew. It is the sole source of information to assess the severity of an inflight incident involving dangerous goods carried as cargo.


With the NOTOC, the ground handler informs the flight deck about any special loads (dangerous or valuable goods, weapons, live animals) in the belly. Especially dangerous goods need high attention, as they can jeopardize the safety of the flight a lot. Unfortunately, there are different kinds of dangerous goods, each calling for other actions in case of a fire. Some fires might be fought with water, and others might worsen when exposed to water.

The pilot in command then signs a copy to remain at the departure station and keeps the original. On this document, all special load is indicated with location, quantity, and – most important – the drill code. With this indicated drill code, the flight crew knows how to react in case of a fire in the cargo holds (position with fire alarm and the information, what was loaded will determine which drill code is to be used).

IATA NOTOC example (Source: https://www.tal-crew.com/docs/SECTION%2010.pdf)

Besides the safety crucial information mentioned above, the flight deck is also informed about the presence of live animals (see position 007 on the shown NOTOC). In that case, they will turn on the lights and the heating in the aircraft hold.

For a ground handler, it is of utmost importance to not only check the physical condition of the cargo loaded into the hold, but also the correct documentation regarding every single detail. In an emergency, the flight crew needs to rely on this information. Mistakes in the documentation might end in a catastrophe.

Cover photo by: https://www.internationalairportreview.com/article/115426/air-cargo-industry-reacting-responding-covid-19/

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