The Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System
June 1, 2007
The Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) has had extraordinary success in reducing the risk of mid-air collisions. Now mandated on all large transport aircraft, TCAS has been in operation for more than a decade and has prevented several catastrophic accidents. TCAS is a unique decision support system in the sense that it has been widely deployed (on more than 25,000 aircraft worldwide) and is continuously exposed to a high-tempo, complex air traffic system. TCAS is the product of carefully balancing and integrating sensor characteristics, tracker and aircraft dynamics, maneuver coordination, operational constraints, and human factors in time-critical situations. Missed or late threat detections can lead to collisions, and false alarms may cause pilots to lose trust in the system and ignore alerts, underscoring the need for a robust system design. Building on prior experience, Lincoln Laboratory recently examined potential improvements to the TCAS algorithms and monitored TCAS activity in the Boston area. Now the Laboratory is pursuing new collision avoidance technologies for unmanned aircraft.