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Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS)

What is TCAS?
TCAS is a special system designed to reduce the incidence of mid-air collisions between aircraft.

A mid-air collision is an aviation accident in which two or more aircraft come into contact during flight.

Basic Features
TCAS monitors the airspace around an aircraft for other aircraft equipped with a corresponding active transponder(independent of ATC). TCAS warns pilots of the presence of other aircraft (transponder-equipped) which may present a threat of mid-air collision (MAC). TCAS is mandatory for all aircraft with MTOM (maximum take-off mass) over 5700 kg or carry more than 19 passengers

TCAS Display

System components
TCAS computer unit:
Performs airspace surveillance, intruder tracking, its own aircraft altitude tracking, threat detection, RA manoeuvre determination and selection, and generation of advisories.

The antennas used by TCAS include a directional antenna that is mounted on the top of the aircraft and either an omnidirectional or a directional antenna mounted on the bottom of the aircraft. In addition to the two TCAS antennas, two antennas are also required for the transponder. These antennas enable the transponder to receive interrogations at 1030 MHz and reply to the received interrogations at 1090 MHz.

Cockpit presentation:
The TCAS interface with the pilots is provided by two displays: the traffic display and the RA display.

System Description
TCAS involves communication between all aircraft equipped with an appropriate transponder. Each TCAS-equipped aircraft interrogates all other aircraft in a determined range about their position (via the 1,030 MHz radio frequency), and all other craft reply to other interrogations (via 1,090 MHz).

TCAS Alerts
Traffic Advisory (TA) : When a TA is issued, pilots are instructed to initiate a visual search for the traffic causing the TA. Resolution Advisory (RA) : When a RA is issued, pilots are expected to respond immediately to the RA else it would jeopardize the safe operation of the flight.

TCAS Operation Modes

Stand-By : Power is applied to the TCAS Processor and the
transponder but TCAS does not issue any interrogation and the transponder will reply to only discrete interrogations.

Transponder : The transponder is fully operational and will

reply to all ground and TCAS interrogations. TCAS remains in Stand-by.

TA Only : TCAS will operate normally and issue the appropriate

interrogations and perform all tracking functions. However, TCAS will only issue Traffic Advisories (TA), and the Resolution Advisories (RA) will be inhibited.

Automatic or TA/RA : The transponder is fully operational .

TCAS will issue Traffic Advisories (TA), and the Resolution Advisories (RA) , when appropriate.

Types of traffic and resolution advisories

Type Text TA Traffic; traffic Meaning Intruder ahead beyond 5 miles of altitude. Required action Attempt visual contact, and be prepared if an RA occurs.


Climb; climb

Intruder too close below.

Begin climbing.
Begin descending. Climb at a faster rate. Descend at a faster rate. Climb at a slower rate.

RA Descend; Descend Intruder too close above. RA Increase climb RA Increase descent RA Reduce climb Intruder slowly climbing toward level Intruder slowly descending toward level Intruder slowly climbing away from level.

RA Reduce descent.

Intruder slowly descending away from level.

Descend at a slower rate

Change from a descent to climb. Change from a climb to descent. Return to previous ATC clearance.

RA Climb; climb now Intruder rapidly descending toward level RA Descend; descend Intruder rapidly climbing toward level now CC Clear of conflict. Intruder is no longer a threat.


TCAS Display
In modern glass cockpit aircraft, the TCAS display may be integrated in the Navigation Display

TCAS Advantages
Highly accurate distance measurements, with a onesecond refresh rate. All threats taken into account Detection of all transponding aircraft, including those which are not displayed on the air traffic controllers screen Independent system, which acts as a last resort measure to avoid mid-air collision when other safety precautions fail. TCAS reduced the risk of mid-air collision

TCAS Limitations
No detection of aircraft without or not operating transponders (e.g. VFRs, military flights)

No knowledge of the pilots intentions and of the ATC separation minima

Basic display: no identification, no past positions, no speed vector Sometime generate unnecessary alerts.