Electronic Conspicuity for Helicopters
The key aspects of the Electronic Conspicuity Report 2023.
Mid-air collisions pose a significant risk in the realm of general aviation, a concern that pilots and aviation enthusiasts are all too familiar with. Traditionally, the primary line of defense has been the “see-and-avoid” method, which relies on pilots’ ability to visually spot and evade other aircraft. However, despite best efforts, sighting issues continue to be a prevalent cause of Airprox events, where the safety of an aircraft is compromised due to proximity to another object.
The Rise of Electronic Conspicuity
In recent times, Electronic Conspicuity (EC) devices have emerged as a crucial tool, supplementing the see-and-avoid technique in general aviation. These devices enhance a pilot’s ability to detect other aircraft, thereby increasing safety and reducing the likelihood of mid-air collisions.
A comprehensive research project, as detailed in the 2023 Electronic Conspicuity Report, has shed light on the current state of EC in aviation. The study involved an extensive review of existing literature, coupled with a broad survey and a series of live-flight tests using eye-tracking technology. This approach was aimed at delving deep into the human factors associated with the use of EC devices.
In the pilots they surveyed, devices use for EC were:
The survey, which garnered over 2000 responses predominantly from pilots of fixed-wing general aviation aircraft under 5700kg, revealed that about 85% of participants use some form of EC, beyond the standard transponder. Intriguingly, many pilots reported using multiple EC devices, with seventy-nine different combinations of EC equipment identified among the respondents. This diversity in EC usage underscores the growing reliance on and the importance of these devices in enhancing flight safety.
The “Electronic Conspicuity Report 2023” did not provide specific case studies or examples illustrating how Electronic Conspicuity (EC) devices have prevented mid-air collisions.
Higher Incidence and EC Effectiveness
The report identifies specific scenarios where a higher incidence of mid-air collisions is noted:
- Proximity to Airports: A significant number of collisions occur within three miles of the airport, mostly under 1000 feet. In particular, 39% of the collisions happen in the approach phase. This is supported by findings that 42% of collisions occur in the approach phase, and 60% in the airport traffic pattern. Overall, 77% of collisions involve either take-off, climb-out, descent for approach, traffic pattern, or over/on the runway.
- Circuit and Pattern Phases: Situations like circuit and pattern flying, including approach and take-off, are frequently mentioned contexts for mid-air collisions. The density of targets in these phases makes traffic avoidance more challenging.
- Formation Flying and Glider Gaggles: Other high-risk scenarios include formation flying, glider gaggles, competition flying, thermalling, ridge soaring, and fly-ins. These situations often result in the EC being ineffective or distracting, leading pilots to ignore EC alerts or even switch off the devices.
These findings indicate that mid-air collisions are more likely in scenarios characterised by high traffic density and complex manoeuvring, such as near airports during approach or take-off phases and during specific flying activities like formation flying and glider operations. Unfortunately, in these scenarios, the effectiveness of EC devices is reduced, either due to the devices being overwhelmed by multiple signals or because pilots find the information distracting or unreliable.
The incorporation of Electronic Conspicuity (EC) devices in general aviation, including the helicopter sector, marks a significant step towards enhancing aerial safety. For helicopter pilots, the use of EC devices is especially pertinent given the unique operational environments they often encounter, such as low-altitude flights, operations in congested airspace, and frequent take-offs and landings in diverse terrains. These devices not only augment the pilot’s situational awareness but also play a critical role in mitigating the risks of mid-air collisions.
Helicopters, with their operational flexibility and maneuverability, often share airspace with a wide range of aircraft, making the adoption of EC technology even more crucial. The various EC devices and combinations, such as the popular SkyEcho2 with ADS-B out Transponder or PilotAware with ADS-B out Transponder, provide helicopter pilots with enhanced capabilities to detect and be detected by other aircraft, irrespective of their size or type.
As the aviation community continues to evolve and embrace new technologies, the role of EC devices in helicopters becomes increasingly important. These tools not only contribute to the safety of individual flights but also to the overall integrity of the aviation ecosystem. It’s vital for helicopter pilots to stay abreast of the latest developments in EC technology and to integrate these systems into their flight routines effectively.