Mission Aviation Fellowship

EC study recommends development of training programme

A study published by the UK CAA, conducted on behalf of the aviation regulator by the General Aviation Safety Council (GASCo) and Jarvis Bagshaw, explores the importance of Electronic Conspicuity (EC – see and avoid) technology used in light aircraft, has recommended that a new training programme for the use of EC be developed.

As well as enhancing airspace safety, EC is also viewed as being vital to enabling the safe and efficient integration of airspace for all airspace users, including emergent drone technology, which is one of the objectives of the CAA’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy.

Electronic Conspicuity is an umbrella term for the technology that can help General Aviation (GA) pilots, drone operators and air traffic services be more aware of what is flying in surrounding airspace.

It includes the devices fitted to aircraft and unmanned systems that send out position information, and the support infrastructure on the ground to help them work together.

Jon Round, Head of Airspace, Aerodromes and Air Traffic Management at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Electronic Conspicuity is key to unlocking progress on modernising airspace in the UK.

 “Not only can it help to mitigate the risk of mid-air collisions and infringements into controlled airspace, but it can enable the safe and efficient integration of all airspace users in our skies.

 “This new report shows how important it is for us to continue our work in this area, so that we can enable the modernisation of the UK’s airspace structure and route network.”

The milestone report was carried out by GASCo and Jarvis Bagshaw, who surveyed pilots to investigate how Human Factors affect the safe use of Electronic Conspicuity.

The results of the survey were complimented by four trial flights, using eye-tracking technology, to observe pilot behaviour in flight when using EC to enhance their visual scan and situational awareness.

Mike O’Donoghue, Chief Executive at GASCo, said: “Electronic Conspicuity is a really important tool for keeping our airspace safe. Our report shows its advantages, but also highlights the need for more training, awareness and hands-on practice.

 “We will continue to work with the UK Civil Aviation Authority on the progress being made in this area, so that the benefits of Electronic Conspicuity can be realised.”

The research found that, despite the advantages of Electronic Conspicuity, there were many learning points including a ‘false sense of security’ from some pilots, issues around distraction when flying, and over-reliance on the technology.

The report also made recommendations on enhancing pilot training for Electronic Conspicuity devices, emphasising the importance of understanding in-flight effects and their mitigation, as well as the need for hands-on practice on the ground and in the air.

The publication of the report comes as the regulator commissions a new study on EC, which will look at how the technology can enhance airspace safety and enable integration of crewed and uncrewed airspace users. The research will aim to characterise UK airspace while researching methods of practically implementing EC.

The regulator will use this recent report from GASCo and Jarvis Bagshaw, and the newly commissioned study, to inform future decisions on an Electronic Conspicuity Standard, and how such a Standard can be implemented.

The survey compilers have identified some key usable themes, distilled down into short guidance and knowledge bullets, aimed at filling gaps in current knowledge and addressing some of the issues found.

Top 6 human-factor tips when using EC:

1.On average, EC detects less than 50% of other UK air-users (less than 80% even with the best combination of multiple functioning devices). Do not expect EC to see everything.

2.Aircraft that your EC detects do have EC but may not detect your EC. Assume they cannot detect your EC, and never expect EC detected aircraft to avoid you.

Don’t spend time visually seeking EC-detected aircraft that are: Clearly no threat

3.More than three miles away (realistic visual range is under two miles). Doing so can seriously detract from your other flight priorities.

4.Assume new signs of traffic do not belong to an existing EC detected target, until you know for sure. I.e. avoid the two-in-one illusion.

5.When making decisions, ask yourself “would I do this this if I had no EC? Unless the answer is a firm Yes, then don’t do it. Do not rely on EC.

6.You will increase your EC reliance in the circuit, particular under high workload. Try to add thorough visual searches into your circuit, for example as part of your downwind checks.

Four Key Device Management Points with EC:

1.Turn off your EC device when on the ground and off the runway. Ground alerts are an unwelcome distraction to others around the circuit and airfield.

2.Use an audio output to augment your visual scan and know how to mute it when you need to do so.

3.Know how to use the filters to remove unwanted screen clutter. Consider the utility of EC targets over 10 miles away and over 5,000ft above/below you.

Develop check lists:

1.(Pre-Flight) Ensure portable devices are updated and fully charged, and bring the correct cables/adaptors/device mounts.

2.(Pre-Take Off) Add a note in your FRCs to ensure that the EC device is switched on prior to entering the runway.

3.(Shut down checks) Add a note to turn off your EC device once you leave the runway.

Two key look out vulnerabilities to be aware of:

1.The eye tracker showed that even searching precisely in the area of another aircraft within visual range does not guarantee seeing the aircraft.

2.Blind spots and obscured areas naturally fall out of the look-out scan without pilots knowing. If seated with another pilot side-by-side, the pilots could brief this threat pre-flight.

In order to encourage adoption of EC devices by the GA community, the Department for Transport (DfT) is continuing to run a rebate scheme, now extended up until 31 March 2024.

The joint venture between the CAA and DfT was first launched in October 2020 with the intention of increasing the number of airspace users equipped with EC devices such as Pilot Aware, Sky Echo and FLARM.

The scheme extends a 50% rebate of the purchase cost of an EC device to a maximum of £250 (inclusive of VAT) per eligible applicant, up to a total of 3,500 rebates.

Having registered for a CAA online customer portal, applicants may complete the EC rebate online registration form; providing details and evidence of the purchase. The current turnaround time is estimated to be up to 30 working days.

Although the DfT and CAA are not recommending any specific device, they do suggest that “all pilots understand and consider the functional benefits, and limitations, of any EC device”. Devices currently recognised under the rebate scheme include ADS-B Out transponders, FLARM, Pilot Aware Rosetta and Sky Echo 2, and eligibility criteria can be found on the CAA’s website.

Author: FTN Editor

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