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Dots Converge, Voice Warns ‘Climb, Climb’ In New Cockpit System

May 1, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two dots converge on a computer screen in the cockpit and a voice warns ″climb, climb″ in a mandatory anti-collision system planned for the nation’s airliners.

The little round computer screen to be added to airliner cockpits, with its ping-pong-ball images and its limited vocabulary, may not look like much to a generation numbed by Nintendo computer games.

But ″TCASII″ is the latest acronym in aviation safety.

At more than $100,000 each, the second generation of the Traffic Alert Collision Avoidance System is also the latest pricey option for the corporate jet.

The system allows pilots to see the proximity of up to 30 aircraft around them, warns verbally when one gets too close and even announces in a computer voice exactly what the pilots should do to avoid a collision: ″climb, climb″ or ″descend, descend.″

The collision avoidance system operates independently of ground-based Air Traffic Control operations and would serve as a backup to warn pilots of any problem that might be missed by the controller.

Attention has been focused on possible midair collisions recently, with nine operational errors involving close-flying aircraft handled by a major southern California facility which brought National Transportation Safety Board warnings last week and reports of two near misses by airliners flying over New York.

Only the smallest planes, with no radar beacons to show their location, would be invisible to the new system.

In a recent demonstration in the skies over northern Virginia, a Sabreliner 65 piloted by Tommy Littlejohn, flight operations director for TCAS manufacturer Bendix-King, came within a quarter mile horizontally and 600 feet vertically of an oncoming Beechcraft Baron that was part of the demonstration.

Passengers inside the plane saw the Baron flash by after Littlejohn followed the voice command and climbed several hundred feet for a safe separation.

″Once you fly with it, you don’t want to fly without it,″ said M. Ace Card, Bendix-King program manager for TCAS, who was aboard the Sabreliner.

Systems built by Honeywell Inc. tested successfully in two Northwest Airlines planes, according to pilot Robert G. Buley. ″For the most part, the results turned out to be more than acceptable to the crews that will have to use the system day to day,″ Buley said in a report for a trade publication.

Congress has required installation of TCASII in all U.S. airliners built to carry more than 30 passengers by the end of 1991.

Rep. Ron Packard, R-Calif., introduced a bill last week to phase in the installation starting with 25 percent of each airline’s fleet by the end of 1990, 50 percent a year later and the rest by the end of 1993. It would order the Federal Aviation Administration to analyze operation of the system in the first year in case any changes are needed.

But airline industry officials say they need at least until the end of 1994 to install the systems in 4,500 domestic airliners. More than 1,200 foreign airliners that fly U.S. skies also would be required to have the anti- collision device.

″The timetable’s too tight,″ said Tim Neale, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents the airline industry. ″We’ve got so much going on that the airlines don’t feel they can get all the planes done in that time without tremendous disruptions in service.″

He noted pending requirements to replace parts on aging airliners, a law that orders installation of equipment to warn against strong wind changes around airports, increases in air travel and a limited number of airline mechanics to do the work.

″We think you need to crawl before you can run,″ Neale said, adding that no test of the system has determined what will happen when large numbers of airliners, all with the units filling their cockpits with a chorus of traffic advisories, are flying in the same area. ″You might get a domino effect,″ he said.

Neale said the airlines support the idea of phasing in the systems and having a one-year test period. But he said they would oppose the bill, which is to be the subject of a congressional hearing on Thursday, if it requires full installation by the end of 1993.

Carriers have begun placing orders for the anti-collision system with three manufacturers competing in a potentially $700 million market: Allied-Signal Aerospace Co.’s Bendix-King Air Transport Avionics Division, the Air Transport Systems Division of Honeywell Inc., and the Collins divisions of Rockwell International.

New orders are expected to be announced within the next few days, according to industry sources.

The TCASII system consists of a sophisticated transponder that has already been installed on some aircraft, antennae, and a computer that analyzes and displays the movement of nearby planes. The transponder sends out a signal to other aircraft as well as ground controllers.

″The system has no bugs,″ said Don Dodgen of Honeywell.

If two computers meet, he said, orders to the pilots will be reconciled automatically: if one plane is told to climb, the other will be advised to descend or stay on course.

While industry experts believe TCASII with its ″climb″ and ″descend″ commands offers enough to prevent nearly all midair collisions, an even more complex system has been developed, TCASIII, that also will include horizontal capabilities.

Dodgen said that even though Honeywell is testing such a system on an FAA airliner, it is not likely to be approved for installation on commercial planes for several years, and then only on models off the assembly line, since it would require major modification for older airliners.

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