See and be seen
The ability to fly in open airspace is one of the most fascinating experiences we can encounter. For us, pilots of various aircraft, uncontrolled airspace is an arena where we fulfill our dreams and ambitions. However, increasing traffic of various users annually raises the risk of collision. In this article, we will focus on key methods of increasing safety in this area and present some strategies that can be a solution.
In uncontrolled airspace, it is the duty of the aircraft commander to maintain distance from other users. The main rule that binds us is “see and be seen,” which is a fundamental element of safe flying, especially in uncontrolled space. This principle requires mutual attention and awareness of one’s position from pilots to avoid collisions. This means vigilance and active scanning of the surroundings to identify other airspace users and potential threats, as well as quick response to their position changes. Regular observation of the sky in all directions is key to effectively applying this rule. Modern aviation, thanks to technological progress, supplements this principle with various anti-collision systems.
They are helpful in detecting threats and warning about them, but still do not replace the watchful eye and skills of the pilot. Although observing the environment is crucial, being noticed by others is equally important. To achieve this, pilots use various methods, such as a distinct color scheme of the aircraft against the sky or additional lighting. Such a solution facilitates spotting the machine against the sky or clouds. Technological progress in recent decades has introduced a series of technical innovations that increase the visibility of aircraft and help in decision-making in the event of an approach. However, due to the diversity of general aviation, which includes pilots of many types of aircraft, there is no universal system perfect for everyone.
In manned aviation, where there is direct radio communication, the Flight Information Service (FIS) plays a key role. The FIS service provides pilots with information on the possibility of collision with other users, enabling planning and modifying the route to avoid dangerous situations. Although FIS does not give direct instructions, as in controlled airspaces, it provides data that allows pilots to act independently and effectively. However, it is worth remembering that in uncontrolled airspace, where pilots are not obliged to maintain constant radio contact, many of them do not use this assistance, mainly due to the lack of radio on board their aircraft.
FLARM is a widely known and used hardware anti-collision system. It is based on dedicated radio communication, allowing aircraft equipped with this system to directly exchange data. Thanks to FLARM, it is possible to calculate flight trajectories and predict potential collision points with other machines. This system is integrated with some navigation systems and electronic avionics displays, providing pilots with anti-collision information on built-in screens. However, its effectiveness may be limited by the way of installation – especially of transceiver antennas, and by interference caused by nearby elements with ferromagnetic properties. Some pilots, as observed on internet forums, point out discrepancies in FLARM indications compared to actual conditions in airspace. FLARM is mainly used by pilots of airplanes and gliders, and to a lesser extent by other airspace users.
The ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) system automatically sends data on the position, speed, and other information about the aircraft to ground stations and other airspace users. It uses GPS signals, which can lead to errors in localization, especially in cheaper devices, such as drones. ADS-B is effective in places difficult for secondary radar, like mountain valleys or open seas, and offers cheaper devices than FLARM. The newly developed ADS-L system aims to serve both manned and unmanned traffic in the lowest layers of airspace.
New technologies also emerge, using cellular networks and satellite communication. Mobile applications such as Skybro Digital Sky or Skybro Aircraft Manager, using satellite localization modules GNSS, gyroscopes, and barometers, allow for identification and collision avoidance in the air. They are particularly useful for pilots of light flying devices, who do not have to invest in additional equipment. Of course, as the altitude of the aircraft’s movement increases, the availability of uninterrupted coverage, and therefore information exchange between users, decreases. However, the aforementioned development of ADS-L technology, which can be applied in mobile devices, and the development of satellite communication will quickly eliminate this technological barrier. It is mainly their availability and low usage cost (everyone practically always has a mobile phone with them) that make such solutions increasingly important links in anti-collision systems.
Safety in airspace is crucial, and the available technologies offer pilots more and more options to effectively implement the “see and be seen” principle. The choice of the right system depends on individual needs, but it is important that pilots today have a variety of tools at their disposal to help avoid collisions.