Technology has played a major ole in enhancing safety over the last 50 years in the air transportation system. A look at the more recent develop- ments proves that the evolu- tion of safety related technol- ogy, procedures and training continue. The biggest leap in safety-related equipment for the air transportation
system in the last 30 years came with the collaborative
development of the ground proximity warning system
(GPWS) and its enhanced successor (EGPWS) that
addressed controlled flight into terrain accidents as
well as the traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS).
For years, controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) was
the biggest cause of fatal accidents. It is now second.
Loss of aircraft control is the number one cause of
fatal accidents involving commercial aircraft with
1,648 fatalities ( 50 on the ground) between 2003 and
2012, according to Boeing data. CFIT accidents over
that time accounted for 971 fatalities, while runway
excursions accounted for 765 fatalities ( 28 on the
ground). EGPWS has helped cut CFIT fatalities over
the last 10 years. (see table, age 49).
Then there are those recent advances in reactive
safety related equipment, such as runway incursion or
excursion-related technology as well as aircraft arresting
materials installed at the end of a runway.
Predictive maintenance tools also enhance safety,
although it is difficult to quantify their worth when
aircraft parts are replaced or repaired before they fail.
Modern commercial aircraft come equipped with
sensors mounted in the airframe and engines, which
predict the failure of a part. Often these predictive
maintenance tools inform the pilot of a potential
failure so the pilot can notify ground crew to have a
replacement part ready as soon as possible. Sometimes
the whole process is automatic and a mechanic is
waiting with the part in hand when the aircraft lands.
Regulatory agencies have done their part by
mandating the installation of safety-related equipment
onboard an aircraft or on or near an airport.
In 1989, FAA mandated the installation of TCAS
on all aircraft that carry more than 19 passengers. It
was followed up by TCAS II, the current generation of
instrument warning system for commercial aircraft.
Soon after, FAA mandated the installation of
Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems, designed to
reduce or eliminate CFIT accidents by improving pilot
In the 1990s, FAA certified Terminal Doppler
Weather Radar. The technology provides air traffic
controllers in terminal radar approach facilities and
air traffic control towers with detailed real time
information about severe weather conditions, including
play a major role
in keeping air
By Robert W. Moorman