New tech to lower risk of midair aircraft collisions

Scientists have developed a new technology that helps pilots of small aircraft avoid midair collisions by significantly improving pilot response times in making decisions to avert crashes.

PTI| Last Updated: May 20, 2014, 13:30 PM IST

Washington:Scientists have developed a new technology that helps pilots of small aircraft avoid midair collisions by significantly improving pilot response times in making decisions to avert crashes.

Researchers at North Carolina State University analysed the "cockpit displays of traffic information" (CDTIs). These are Global Positioning System (GPS) displays used by private pilots to track other aircraft in their vicinity.

However, pilots often focus on the closest aircraft on the display - a habit that can pose a significant hazard.

If the pilot of Plane A sees two planes on the CDTI, he`s more likely to focus on the closest aircraft (Plane B).

But if the more distant plane (Plane C) is moving at high speed, it could cross his path before Plane B does. Not paying enough attention to Plane C increases risk of a midair collision, researchers said.

"Our goal was to modify a CDTI to help pilots recognise which other planes pose the greatest risk," said Carl Pankok, lead author of a study on the work.

Researchers modified the CDTI so that the plane that would cross a pilot`s path first either began blinking or was coloured yellow.

The researchers tested the modified CDTI in a flight simulator with a panel of licensed recreational pilots.

The research team compared the pilots` response times and decision-making accuracy when using the modified and unmodified displays.

"These pilots were already pretty good, but the modified CDTIs made them better," Pankok said.

"Their percentage of `correct` decisions - minimising risk - jumped from 88 per cent to 96 per cent. And their response times in scenarios where the farther aircraft was the higher-risk aircraft were cut in half; from 7.2 seconds to 3.7 seconds for blinking CDTIs, and to 4 seconds for yellow CDTIs," said Pankok.

"We`re not trying to make money off this. We`re hoping that CDTI manufacturers can incorporate these changes and possibly save lives," Pankok said.

The research was published in the journal Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine.