Airborne Collision Avoidance System ACAS is an aircraft system based on Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) transponder signals. ACAS II interrogates the Mode C and Mode S transponders of nearby aircraft (‘intruders’) and from the replies tracks, their altitude and range and issues alert to the pilots, as appropriate.
It will not detect non-transponder-equipped aircraft and will not issue any resolution advice for traffic without altitude reporting transponder. also, works independently of the aircraft navigation, flight management systems, and Air Traffic Control (ATC) ground systems.
While assessing threats it does not take into account the ATC clearance, pilot’s intentions, or Flight Management System inputs. ACAS II is not connected to the autopilot, except the Airbus AP/FD.
Currently, the only commercially available implementation of the ICAO standard for ACAS II (Airborne Collision Avoidance System) is TCAS II version 7.1 (Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System).
ICAO Annex 10 vol. IV states that all ACAS II units must be compliant with version 7.1 as of 1 January 2017. In Europe version 7.1 has been mandatory since 1 December 2015. However, in some countries, there is a large population of aircraft still operating versions 6.04a and 7.0.
INFORMATION PROVIDED BY ACAS
Two types of alerts can be issued by ACAS II – TA (Traffic Advisory) and RA (Resolution Advisory). The former is intended to assist the pilot in the visual acquisition of the conflicting aircraft and prepare the pilot for a potential RA.
If a risk of collision is established by ACAS II, an RA will be generated. Broadly speaking, RAs tell the pilot the range of vertical speed at which the aircraft should be flown to avoid the threat aircraft.
The visual indication of these rates is shown on the flight instruments. It is accompanied by an audible message indicating the intention of the RA. A “Clear of Conflict” message will be generated when the aircraft diverge horizontally.
Once an RA has been issued, the vertical sense (direction) of the RA is coordinated with other ACAS II-equipped aircraft via a mode Slink, so that two aircraft choose complementary maneuvers. RAs aim for collision avoidance by establishing a safe vertical separation (300 – 700 feet), rather than restoring a prescribed ATC separation.
ACAS II operates on relatively short time scales. The maximum generation time for a TA is 48 seconds before the Closest Point of Approach (CPA). For an RA the time is 35 seconds. The time scales are shorter at lower altitudes (where aircraft typically fly slower).
Unexpected or rapid aircraft maneuvers may cause an RA to be generated with much less lead time. It is possible that an RA will not be preceded by a TA if a threat is imminent. The effectiveness of an RA is evaluated by the ACAS equipment every second and, if necessary, the RA may be strengthened, weakened, reversed, or terminated.
A protected volume of airspace surrounds each ACAS II-equipped aircraft. The size of the protected volume depends on the altitude, speed, and heading of the aircraft involved in the encounter. See illustration below.
RAs can be generated before ATC separation minima are violated and even when ATC separation minima will not be violated. In Europe, for about two-thirds of all RAs, the ATC separation minima are not significantly violated.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is responsible for the global standardization of ACAS based on the Minimum Operational Performance Standards (MOPS) prepared by RTCA and EUROCAE.
Airborne Collision Avoidance System equipment is available from three vendors (ACSS, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins). While each vendor’s implementation is slightly different, they provide the same core functions, and the collision avoidance and coordination logic contained in each implementation are the same.
In order to be certified, ACAS equipment must meet the Minimum Operational Performance Standards (MOPS) laid down in RTCA and EUROCAE documents.
TCAS II version 7.1 Minimum Operational Performance Standards (MOPS) have been published by RTCA as DO-185B and by EUROCAE as ED-143.
TYPES OF ACAS
Currently, ICAO Annex 10 vol. IV defines the following types of ACAS:
Gives Traffic Advisories (TAs) but does not recommend any maneuvers. The only implementation of the ACAS I concept is TCAS I.
ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) for ACAS I are published in ICAO Annex 10, volume IV but are limited to interoperability and interference issues with ACAS II. ACAS I is mandated in the United States for certain smaller aircraft.
Gives Traffic Advisories (TAs) and Resolution Advisories (RAs) in the vertical sense (direction). ACAS II SARPs are published in ICAO Annex 10 vol. IV.
The only implementations of the ACAS II concept are TCAS II versions 7.0 and 7.1. Annex 10 further states that all aircraft shall carry version 7.1 as of 1 January 2017.
Gives TAs and RAs in vertical and/or horizontal directions. Also referred to as TCAS III and TCAS IV. Not currently implemented and is unlikely to be in the near future. ICAO SARPs for ACAS III have not been developed. Currently, there are no plans to proceed with such a development.
ACAS X, a future collision avoidance system, is currently being developed.
Amendment 85 to ICAO Annex 10 volume IV, published in October 2010, introduced a provision stating that:
- all new ACAS installations after 1 January 2014 shall be compliant with version 7.1
- all Airborne Collision Avoidance System units shall be compliant with version 7.1 after 1 January 2017.
On 20 December 2011, the European Commission published an Implementing Rule, subsequently amended on 16 April 2016, mandating the carriage of ACAS II version 7.1 within European Union airspace earlier than the dates stipulated in ICAO Annex 10:
- by all aircraft with a maximum certified take-off mass exceeding 5,700 kg or authorized to carry more than 19 passengers from 1 March 2012
- with the exception of aircraft with an individual certificate of airworthiness issued before 1 March 2012, that must be equipped from 1 December 2015
- aircraft not referred to above but which will be equipped on a voluntary basis with ACAS II must be equipped with version 7.1.
In some parts of the world, notably in the United States, the ACAS equipage mandate is different.
The safety benefits delivered by ACAS are usually expressed in terms of the risk ratio. For Europe, the EUROCONTROL ACASA Project computed, for both the CVSM and the RVSM environments the full system ratio of 21.7% and 21.5% respectively.
The most important single factor affecting the performance of TCAS II is the response of pilots to RAs.
At any time, regardless of the level of Airborne Collision Avoidance System equipage by other aircraft, the risk of collision for a specific aircraft can be reduced by a factor greater than three by fitting TCAS II.