Six considerations for the use EC technology

The UK CAA has published a report on the use of electronic conspicuity (EC) technology used in light aircraft. Covered by FTN, the milestone report was carried out by the General Aviation Safety Council (GASCo) and Jarvis Bagshaw, who surveyed pilots to investigate how Human Factors affect the safe use of EC devices. The six factors for the use of EC technology  is now examined.

EC 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.

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.”

Mike O’Donoghue has now sent FTN a follow-up report, detailing six key considerations to employ when using EC technology and which could form part of a new training programme designed to maximise the safe use of EC devices. Happily, the probability of being involved in a mid-air collision (MAC) is statistically low but the consequences are invariably dire.

When an audience of GA pilots is asked about the risk of MAC in Class G airspace, they invariably rank the threat higher in the fatal accident continuum than is actually the case. This may be partly because they feel that mitigating the risk is not wholly within their control as at least one other aircraft will be involved and possibly the fear of the outcome of a MAC. EC is one tool that can help augment the primary means of avoiding MAC, i.e. by maintaining a good lookout and avoiding other traffic or ‘see and avoid’.

The current availability of devices that provide EC information to pilots has resulted in a degree of choice for pilots. To ensure interoperability of these systems a standard for EC systems was developed and published by the CAA (CAP 1391) in 2021.

Despite this, the available systems are only partially interoperable and therefore the goal of turning the ‘see-and-avoid’ method of ensuring separation into one of ‘see–be seen–and– avoid’ has yet to be realised.

Safety advice on the use of VFR Moving Map Devices most of which have the capability to integrate and display EC data was issued by the CAA in February 2022 but while this safety sense leaflet contained good generic advice, it did not specifically address the human factors aspects of using contemporary EC devices. The General Aviation Safety Council (GASCo) was asked to carry out a research project in conjunction with Jarvis Bagshaw Ltd and funded by the CAA to provide this advice.

The study report which was based on a comprehensive survey of GA pilots, an analysis of device interoperability together with the results of some research test flights, is now available online.

The findings of the report are summarised by the six key points below. The research found that, despite the advantages of EC, 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.

1. There will be undetected aircraft around you, probably more than detected aircraft. Visual lookout is still the priority.

2. Assume your aircraft is not showing on the others’ EC displays, and never expect an EC detected aircraft to avoid you.

3. Don’t prioritise searching for EC targets beyond three miles.

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 big decisions, ask yourself ‘would I do this if I did not have EC?’ If the answer is NO then reconsider whether it is OK.

6. You will increase you EC reliance in the circuit, particularly under high workload.

The report is accompanied by a video which explains the six points in detail. It is also available to download from the CAA website. 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 Electronic Conspicuity, 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 Electronic Conspicuity. It is thought that this work will be undertaken by QinetiQ.

Author: FTN Editor

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