Flying Safer Skies with SmartTraffic

April 29, 2015 | Author: Thea Feyereisen

We recently announced that Southwest Airlines selected Honeywell Aerospace’s full suite of cockpit technologies for its future fleet of Boeing®737 MAX and existing fleet of Boeing®737NG aircraft. Our traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS), called SmartTraffic®, is included in the suite and Southwest will use the TPA-100B Traffic Computer for their 737 MAX fleet.


Mid-air aircraft collisions, with rare exception, result in tragic loss of life. One early example of such is the mid-air collision that occurred in 1956 between a DC-7 and a L-1949 Super Constellation. However, it would be several decades after that mid-air crash before a traffic collision technology solution, called TCAS, became standard equipment on airlines. The US Congress ultimately mandated equipage of TCAS on airliners in 1993, with the European mandate occurring seven years later.



A team of Honeywell engineers and pilots developed our traffic computers with TCAS to provide pilots with a display of traffic and a warning system to help prevent mid-air collisions. The traffic display provides pilots a picture of the transponder equipped aircraft within the vicinity and includes a mapping of the bearing, distance and altitude of the other traffic. 

The traffic computer performs calculations to determine potential of future collisions between ownship and others:

  • The first level of TCAS alert is a Traffic Advisory (TA). A yellow circle on the display during a TA alerts the pilot to the presence of another aircraft that may become a threat. The pilot may use the display to help visually acquire the target aircraft (if in visual conditions) and it helps prepare the pilot for a potential maneuver.
  • When a pilot receives a Resolution Advisory (RA), he/she must perform a vertical maneuver immediately to avoid a potential mid-air collision (note: sometimes the RA commands the flight crew to maintain their current vertical rate). RAs are encoded visually on the display with a red square, provide visual guidance, and are also accompanied with an aural alert, e.g., “CLIMB CLIMB”. 
  • When the RA is removed, an aural for “CLEAR OF CONFLICT” is provided by TCAS.



Honeywell Traffic Computer TCAS Display


Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) is a newer technology finding its way into traffic computers and cockpit displays of traffic. ADS-B is satellite based aircraft position information that can be shared with ground stations and other properly equipped aircraft. It is gradually becoming mandated equipment in some airspace in the US, Europe, Australia, Canada and other parts of the world.

With an ADS-B receiver, the pilot can have a much more accurate and complete picture of the traffic in the vicinity of ownship. Traffic icons on the display can now be associated to an air traffic control (ATC) call sign. In addition, encoded information like orientation and groundspeed may also be presented on the display. The enhanced information improves traffic situation awareness both on the ground and in the air. Pilots are better able to quickly assess trajectories of other aircraft and closure rates with the presentation of a better traffic picture. In addition to the enhanced display, operational capabilities planned include improved capacity (i.e., reduce future ATC delays!) with the ability for aircraft to fly and land closer to each at safe distances. In addition to capacity improvement, fuel burn reduction through more efficient routing (including trans-oceanic) is a potential benefit of ADS-B.


Traffic Display with ADS-B Targets



While the design intent for the original traffic computers (i.e., TCAS) was to reduce the potential for mid-air collisions, traffic computers have seen great growth in functionality. Evasive maneuver guidance, aural alerts and algorithm refinement have helped to further reduce the probability of mid-air collisions. The addition of ADS-B not only improves the pilot’s situation awareness, it also extends the aircraft’s traffic computer function from one of safety to one of operational improvements to reduce congestion, expedite traffic and save fuel burn through improved routing.

Honeywell’s SmartTraffic computer that includes TCAS and ADS-B technologies is designed to make flying safer while increasing capacity and reducing environmental impact.  Since 1955, Honeywell has been researching and developing traffic computers. From early prototype flight tests with the U.S. Army and FAA last century to certifying an electronic flight bag display for demonstrated reduced trans-oceanic fuel burn with our SmartTraffic computer this century, Honeywell has been an engaged technology leader in the field. I hope you can rest (or fly) assured, knowing that our research scientists and engineers are continuing to look for opportunities to make your flying experience safer and more secure, more comfortable and energy efficient!

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Thea Feyereisen

Thea Feyereisen

Thea Feyereisen is an Engineering Fellow in the Flight Safety Systems group of Honeywell’s Aerospace Advanced Technology organization. She is an innovation leader in the areas of synthetic vision, safety, navigation and situation awareness display design and cross-cultural user interface. She is the technical lead of Honeywell’s Synthetic Vision and Interactive Moving Map Display research projects and leads a cross-cultural flight deck program with Honeywell’s China Air Traffic Management research lab. Previously she has led programs for NASA-funded High Speed Research and Aviation Weather Information Network. Ms. Feyereisen represents Honeywell on the FAA Commercial Aviation Safety Team for Airplane State Awareness and is on the leadership team for the RTCA committee on Synthetic and Enhanced Vision. Thea is a pilot and flight instructor and prior to joining Honeywell 20 years ago, logged flight time as a bush pilot in Alaska. She is co-inventor on over 25 patents and has a Masters in Aeronautical Science Human Factors from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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