NTSB: See and Avoid Isn’t Enough

Cockpit traffic displays can provide another set of eyes to any pilot.

A recreation of the pilot's view from a Cessna 150 that collided with an F-16 near Monck's Corner, South Carolina.YouTube/NTSBgov

The National Transportation Safety Board took a giant leap forward last week in effort to remind pilots of the limits to the see and avoid concept, the primary method of avoiding midair collisions. The Board released a series of animations created from the pilot's view in the cockpit from three of the four aircraft involved in two recent midair collisions. The animations show not only the difficulty any of these pilots would have experienced seeing the other aircraft but also the value of cockpit traffic technology as a supplement to the human eye.

In the July 2015 accident, a U.S. Air Force F-16 and a Cessna 150 collided near Moncks Corner, South Carolina, just north of Charleston. While on approach to San Diego’s Brown Field in August 2015, a North American Rockwell Sabreliner business jet ran together with a Cessna 172. Together, the two accidents claimed seven lives, with the only survivor being the F-16 pilot who managed to safely eject after the collision.

Investigators used 3-D laser equipment to scan the cockpit windows and surrounding airplane structure of four aircraft similar to the ones involved to create animations that, combined with radar data, provide an approximation of what each pilot likely saw before the collision. Investigators added radar data to reconstruct how in-cockpit technology provides pilots with graphical and aural alerts of nearby traffic and how that could have made the pilots aware of the approaching aircraft and possibly prevented the collisions.

The NTSB said the “inherent limitations of the see and avoid concept of traffic separation … combined with errors by the air traffic controllers,” contributed to the pilots’ inability to take action to avoid the collisions.