FAA proposes TCAS be required for freighters

Washington DC
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US cargo carriers would have to install over the next two years traffic alert and collision avoidance systems (TCAS) or similar safety devices on all freighters weighing over 15 tonnes (33,000lb), under a new rule proposed today by the FAA.

The agency currently only requires (TCAS) on passenger aircraft with more than ten seats, leaving freighters of all sizes free to fly without the safety device, but has been considering similar requirements for freighters for several years at the urging of Congress and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Without the FAA’s support, Congress passed a law last year mandating TCAS on freighters. But some carriers have received exemptions and extensions from the requirement.

United Parcel Service, in particular, has avoided installing the safety device on most of its fleet even as other major US cargo carriers have given up resisting public pressure to install the device voluntarily and avoid what some safety experts consider was an accident waiting to happen.

A FedEx spokesman says all its international fleet and most of its domestic fleet is now equipped with TCAS. He adds all remaining aircraft are scheduled to be equipped with the device by the time the new FAA proposed requirement would go into effect on 31 October 2003.

An Airborne Express spokesman says only six of the airline’s freighters now have TCAS but plans are in place to retrofit the rest of its fleet.

Led by the Cargo Airline Association (CAA), US cargo carriers lobbied for years against a TCAS requirement. In recent years, the CAA has endorsed automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) as an alternative technology. ADS-B is being developed by UPS Aviation Technologies and UPS Airlines has held out against installing TCAS in hopes ADS-B’s “enhanced see and avoid” function would win FAA approval before TCAS was mandated.

The FAA says its proposed rule “allows for systems equivalent to TCAS that the FAA may approve in the future”. But it is unclear if ADS-B will meet this definition or if the FAA will approve the device for use in all aircraft types by the time the proposed rule would take effect in 2003.

UPS Airlines and the CAA have argued that ADS-B is better suited for the future air traffic environment and that installing TCAS technology now would be a waste of money because it will soon be out of date.

The new rule would apply to just about every freighter operated by mainline cargo carriers. Some large regional freighters would also have to be retrofitted. For example, in terms of maximum takeoff weight the Bombardier Dash 8 would be just over and the Saab 340 would fall just under the proposed requirement.

The FAA will accept comment on the proposed rule over the next 60 days and will take into account any objections before making a final ruling. UPS and CAA spokesmen were not available to comment.