Radio Navigation – Collision Avoidance Systems

in Communication and Navigation

Collision Avoidance Systems

The ever increasing volume of air traffic has caused a corresponding increase in concern over collision avoidance. Ground-based radar, traffic control, and visual vigilance are no longer adequate in today’s increasingly crowded skies. Onboard collision avoidance equipment, long a staple in larger aircraft, is now common in general aviation aircraft. New applications of electronic technology combined with lower costs make this possible.


Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS)

Traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS) are transponder based air-to-air traffic monitoring and alerting systems. There are two classes of TCAS. TCAS I was developed to accommodate the general aviation community and regional airlines. This system identifies traffic in a 35–40 mile range of the aircraft and issues Traffic Advisories (TA) to assist pilots in visual acquisition of intruder aircraft. TCAS I is mandated on aircraft with 10 to 30 seats.

TCAS II is a more sophisticated system. It is required internationally in aircraft with more than 30 seats or weighing more than 15,000 kg. TCAS II provides the information of TCAS I, but also analyzes the projected flightpath of approaching aircraft. If a collision or near miss is imminent, the TCAS II computer issues a Resolution Advisory (RA). This is an aural command to the pilot to take a specific evasive action (i.e., DESCEND). The computer is programmed such that the pilot in the encroaching aircraft receives an RA for evasive action in the opposite direction (if it is TCAS II equipped). [Figure 11-131]

Figure 11-131. Traffic collision and avoidance system (TCAS) uses an aircraft’s transponder to interrogate and receive replies from other aircraft in close proximity. The TCAS computer alerts the pilot as to the presence of an intruder aircraft and displays the aircraft on a screen in the cockpit. Additionally, TCAS II equipped aircraft receive evasive maneuver commands from the computer that calculates trajectories of the aircraft to predict potential collisions or near misses before they become unavoidable.

Figure 11-131. Traffic collision and avoidance system (TCAS) uses an aircraft’s transponder to interrogate and receive replies from other aircraft in close proximity. The TCAS computer alerts the pilot as to the presence of an intruder aircraft and displays the aircraft on a screen in the cockpit. Additionally, TCAS II equipped aircraft receive evasive maneuver commands from the computer that calculates trajectories of the aircraft to predict potential collisions or near misses before they become unavoidable. [click image to enlarge]

The transponder of an aircraft with TCAS is able to interrogate the transponders of other aircraft nearby using SSR technology (Mode C and Mode S). This is done with a 1030 MHz signal. Interrogated aircraft transponders reply with an encoded 1090 MHz signal that allows the TCAS computer to display the position and altitude of each aircraft. Should the aircraft come within the horizontal or vertical distances shown in Figure 11-131, an audible TA is announced. The pilot must decide whether to take action and what action to take. TCAS II equipped aircraft use continuous reply information to analyze the speed and trajectory of target aircraft in close proximity. If a collision is calculated to be imminent, an RA is issued.

Figure 11-132. TCAS information displayed on an electronic vertical speed indicator.

Figure 11-132. TCAS information displayed on an electronic vertical speed indicator.

TCAS target aircraft are displayed on a screen on the flight deck. Different colors and shapes are used to depict approaching aircraft depending on the imminent threat level. Since RAs are currently limited to vertical evasive maneuvers, some stand-alone TCAS displays are electronic vertical speed indicators. Most aircraft use some version of an electronic HSI on a navigational screen or page to display TCAS information. [Figure 11-132] A multifunction display may depict TCAS and weather radar information on the same screen. [Figure 11-133] A TCAS control panel [Figure 11-134] and computer are required to work with a compatible transponder and its antenna(s). Interface with EFIS or other previously installed or selected display(s) is also required.

Figure 11-133. TCAS information displayed on a multifunction display. An open diamond indicates a target; a solid diamond represents a target that is within 6 nautical miles of 1,2000 feet vertically. A yellow circle represents a target that generates a TA (25-48 seconds before contact). A red square indicates a target that generates an RA in TCAS II (contact within 35 seconds). A (+) indicates the target aircraft is above and a (-) indicates it is below. The arrows show if the target is climbing or descending.

Figure 11-133. TCAS information displayed on a multifunction display. An open diamond indicates a target; a solid diamond represents a target that is within 6 nautical miles of 1,2000 feet vertically. A yellow circle represents a target that generates a TA (25-48 seconds before contact). A red square indicates a target that generates an RA in TCAS II (contact within 35 seconds). A (+) indicates the target aircraft is above and a (-) indicates it is below. The arrows show if the target is climbing or descending.

TCAS may be referred to as airborne collision avoidance system (ACAS), which is the international name for the same system. TCAS II with the latest revisions is known as Version 7. The accuracy and reliability of this TCAS information is such that pilots are required to follow a TCAS RA over an ATC command.

Figure 11-134. This control panel from a Boeing 767 controls the transponder for ATC use and TCAS.

Figure 11-134. This control panel from a Boeing 767 controls the transponder for ATC use and TCAS.