As you cruise along at 41,000 feet gazing across the horizon you become aware of another aircraft that seems to be invading your space. You wonder; what type of aircraft is it? How close are they? Does the flight crew know they are there? Are we safe?
The answer is, yes we are safe and, yes we are aware of the traffic thanks to ATC and an on board system called TCAS [Traffic Collision Avoidance System]
TCAS is a radar based system that informs the flight crew of any aircraft that is within the proximity of their aircraft. TCAS will also mathematically compute the proposed trajectory of all targets in the area and emit an obtrusive audio and visual warning. The computed resolution is displayed in red on the Horizontal Situational Indicator along with commands through my headset; Traffic! Traffic! Pull – Up! Pull – Up!
Thanks to simulator training conflict resolution is routinely practiced resulting in a high level of competency if ever experienced for real. On my last simulator training session I experienced an emergency vehicle on a collision course at 23,000 feet. What he was doing there I will never know, but it made for an interesting exercise.
Furthermore ATC will not counteract the on board computed avoidance measures, thereby eliminating any confusion as to which solution is correct. TCAS has precedence.
Situational awareness is imperative for at any given moment there may be in excess of 4,000 aircraft flying the skies of North America. Redundancy is paramount in aviation. That’s what keeps us safe. Rest assured that every aircraft is monitored by:
- ATC who exercise extremely strict guidelines for vertical and horizontal separation.
- TCAS, which electronically monitors and computes the safe separation parameters of every aircraft, then relays that information to the flight crew.
- The highly vigilante flight crews of all aircraft within close proximity of each other.
- The curious passenger in the back of the aircraft who has the peace of mind that the Skies are Safe.
On your next flight enjoy the view especially the sight of those commercial jets going beneath us.