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Safety board seeks collision-avoidance equipment on cargo planes

February 27, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Congress is considering whether collision-avoidance equipment should be required on cargo planes, which are filling a growing portion of the crowded skies.

Now operating as many as 800 planes, cargo carriers are not covered by rules for commercial passenger planes that call for devices to warn pilots of potential collisions.

But the freighter pilots want the same requirement to apply.

The ``time has come to equalize the level of safety between the cargo fleet and their passenger-carrying counterparts,″ J. Randolph Babbitt, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said in testimony for the House Aviation transportation subcommittee on Wednesday.

And Andre Dressler of the Independent Pilots Association, which represents about 2,000 United Parcel Service pilots, called the failure a ``dangerous omission.″

Their proposal was endorsed by Robert Francis, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

``We have a demonstrably effective system of collision avoidance that can be installed,″ Francis said of TCAS _ Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System.

Indeed, it was TCAS that warned a Nations Air pilot recently that he was being approached by an Air National Guard F-16 fighter, causing the airline pilot to maneuver to avoid the military jet.

The Air Freight Association, representing the cargo carriers, told the committee it supports adding collision-avoidance systems to its planes, but prefers to wait for new technology being developed called ADS-B, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast.

Francis, however, told the committee that while the new system is promising it could take 10 to 15 years to be fully developed and in use on all planes.

Francis said TCAS allows its users to detect and avoid any plane with a simple radio transponder, while ADS detects only other planes with ADS systems.

``We feel TCAS is a reasonable thing to mandate,″ Francis said. ``With ADS-B the entire fleet has to be outfitted, and that isn’t right around the corner.″

Guy Gardner, associate administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, was more optimistic about ADS-B being available within a few years, saying his agency is trying to speed up development of the system.

But, he added, ``I don’t want anyone throwing out TCAS, ever. Even with ADS-B, TCAS would serve as a (backup) system,″ he said.

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