[MS Defense] Scottie-Beth Fleming

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The Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) is an aircraft collision avoidance system designed to prevent mid-air collisions. During an advisory, danger is imminent, and TCAS is assumed to have better, more up-to-date information than the ground operated air traffic control (ATC) facility. Following a TCAS RA is generally the safe course of action during an advisory. However, pilot compliance with RAs is surprisingly low. Results from a TCAS monitoring study show pilots are not complying with many TCAS advisories. As revealed by pilot-submitted Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) reports, this noncompliance could be attributed, in part, to pilot confusion to TCAS operation as well as misunderstandings of the appropriate response to a TCAS issued advisory.

This thesis details the development and evaluation of a TCAS training program intended to improve pilots’ understanding of TCAS use for collision avoidance in a range of traffic situations. The training program integrated Demonstration Based and Event Based Training techniques. Its efficacy was analyzed in an integrated ATC-cockpit simulator study in which eighteen commercial airline pilots were asked to complete the TCAS training program and afterwards experienced twelve experimental traffic events. The trained pilots’ performance was compared to the performance of 16 baseline pilots who did not receive the modified training.

Overall, the training program did have a significant impact on the pilots’ behavior and response to TCAS advisories. The measure Time Pilots First Achieved Compliance decreased with the trained pilots, as did the measure Autopilot Disconnect Time After RA Initiation. Trained pilots exhibited less aggressive performance in response to a TCAS RA (including a decrease in the measures Altitude Deviation Over Duration Of RA, Average Vertical Rate Difference, Maximum Vertical Rate Difference, and Maximum Vertical Rate). The measure Percent Compliance did not significantly vary between trained and baseline pilots, although trained pilots had a more consistent response in the traffic event with conflicting ATC guidance. Finally, on the post-experiment questionnaires, pilots commented on their increase in understanding of TCAS as well as an increase in their trust in the advisory system.

Results of this research inform TCAS training objectives provided by the FAA as well as the design of TCAS training. Additionally, conclusions extend more broadly to improved training techniques for other similar complex, time-critical situations.

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