The National Transportation Safety Board reported Tuesday that two mid-air collisions in 2015 show the limits of “see and avoid” strategies and suggests air traffic controllers and pilots buy better cockpit technology to help avoid such deadly crashes.
NTSB officials read reports in Washington on the two accidents that claimed the lives of seven people, saying existing safety mechanisms failed.
The “see and avoid” strategy requires a pilot to see another aircraft and take evasive action in time to avoid a collision.
“We want to highlight the limitations of the see-and-avoid concept and call attention to the alternatives,” NTSB spokesman Peter Knudsen said following the presentation. “There are affordable options for pilots to install equipment that can help avoid such incidents.”
The first collision happened over Moncks Corner, South Carolina, between a Cessna and an Air Force F-16 fighter. Two people in the small plane were killed but the jet pilot ejected safely.
The second accident occurred in San Diego. Five people were killed in the collision between a Cessna and a twin-engine jet.
In the South Carolina case, board investigator Dennis Diaz said the controller told investigators she had thought the Cessna would stay within its Moncks Corner local traffic pattern, but realized it was climbing and a crash was possible. The Cessna wasn’t in contact with the tower, nor was it required to be, Diaz said.
The controller told the F-16 pilot to “turn left immediately” but the pilot was confused about the instruction, Diaz said.
The investigator said the F-16 and the Cessna “were not equipped with any traffic display or alert technologies” that would have avoided the crash.
In San Diego, the pilot of a small Cessna was practicing touch-and-go landings at Brown Municipal Airport and collided with the faster-moving twin-engine jet, which carried four contractors returning from working with the Navy. All five people on the two planes died.
The NTSB said the fields of vision for both the Cessna and the small jet appeared to be limited and partially obscured at times.
“The accident airplanes were not equipped with any type of technologies in the cockpit that displayed or alerted of traffic conflicts. If such technologies were in one or both of the airplanes, it is likely that the pilots would have been aware of surrounding traffic and this might have changed the outcome,” the board report said.
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