devices can and cannot do." ADS-B has been used in successful ground trials at three UK GA airfields, Manchester Barton, Goodwood and North Weald, to see how well such ADS-B devices can also work in conjunction with airfields by displaying their traffic information to ground stations. With the growing take-up of the new kit there’s clearly an appetite among GA pilots for some form of traffic warning device — in a recent CAA survey 89% of some 1,600 pilots thought a traffic warning system would benefit safety — but, understandably, no one wants to spend a lot. Plus, they want it to be lightweight, have low power consumption, be simple to operate, provide value and not become obsolete quickly.
This drone flew 13.5 miles over the sea to deliver medicine
Until recently most general aviation pilots have simply used ‘See and Avoid’ to keep out of trouble outside controlled airspace, but if the new types of aviation are to fit in safely and grow sustainably there’s a coming need for something other than a good lookout to avoid a rising number mid-air encounters. The latest annual figures from the UK Airprox Board give an idea of the size of the issue; in 2018, 319 potential collisions were reported of which 180 were aircraft-to- aircraft and 139 involved drones, compared with159 aircraft-to-aircraft and 113 aircraft- to-drone incidents in 2017, so that’s a 17.3% increase in a year.
In its most basic form electronic conspicuity uses a small, low power, inexpensive transmitter supplying position, height and direction that can be picked up by other aircraft and vice versa. Used in conjunction with airfields it could also potentially cut down the number of airspace infringements for both airfields and pilots. The kit, which is expected to be ‘portable’ could be used on registered and non- registered UK Annex II aircraft, Annex I non-complex EASA aircraft of less than 5700kg MTOM and for gliders and balloons (including thosecovered under ELA 1 and ELA 2).
If you haven’t had the opportunity of seeing it in action, as well as the transmitter, a receiver (both usually in the same box) calculates whether there might be a conflict between you and another suitably equipped aircraft. Warnings are then given either via a display or audibly or both (something like traffic 100ft above, 11 o’clock) in good time for the pilot to locate the ‘threat’ and take avoiding action.
There are several excellent commercial 04
systems already available in wide use for light aircraft, gliders, microlights, balloons and even paragliders/motors, but they use different technologies, including Flarm, P3i and ADS-B and most pilots who have used any of them would probably say they wouldn’t now do without their device. The biggest issue, though, is that not all devices can talk to each other which is, as they say, sub-optimal; no one wants to have to buy more than one piece of kit to do a job. The real key for electronic conspicuity to work properly
'There's clearly an appetite for some form of traffic warning device'
is ‘interoperability’ or, in plain language, ensuring that all devices current and future can communicate with each other using a common technological standard. Given the global market for such devices the CAA says it doesn’t want to impose a particular type of device or supplier, but it does want to see a standard digital technology. That might be ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance- Broadcast) technology, which as well as providing position and traffic information via GPS can also use its digital data to offer pilots weather and flight information. The CAA recognises that devices need to successfully interact with each other to obtain the maximum benefit from electronic conspicuity. "We have recommended that anyone purchasing an EC device makes sure they are fully aware of what individual
With that in mind, the survey looked at what might encourage pilots to use a low powered ADS-B device and cost came out top for two-thirds of those who replied. Some 40% said they were prepared to pay between £100-£250, while a further 50 percent were willing to up the ante to £250-£500. For more than half the ability to receive flight information or weather data via ADS-B was a great attraction. Another potential benefit of electronic conspicuity is access to more airspace as we touched on earlier. As well as possibly easing access for aircraft into some already ‘controlled’ areas, it might also reduce the number of airfields trying to get new controlled airspace installed around them because such airspace control would be deemed unnecessary.
It’s worth noting, though, that even based on ADS-B technology electronic conspicuity devices are not yet a substitute for a transponder and fulfil the requirement where transponders are mandatory, although expected policy changes in 2021 may change this.
So is electronic conspicuity worth having and will it become mandatory? The answers are yes (just ask anyone who’s flown with it, chances are they’ll never go back) and no -- at present there’s no intention of it becoming mandatory, the feeling is that a flexible approach is needed suitable to the circumstances of particular categories of aviation.
Looking ahead, there’s no doubt some form of electronic conspicuity is going to be essential for flying in certain blocks of uncontrolled airspace and to aid integration as more types of ‘new’ aircraft rise into the skies and drones play an even larger part of everyday life — otherwise before long we might hear air-taxi drivers shouting “Look at that bloke, what’s the matter wiv ’im, can’t he see us…?”.
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