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Home > Air Safety > What are the chances of mid-air collisions?
What are the chances of mid-air collisions?
Aviation - Air Safety
Thursday, 29 January 2009 06:54

Hello Captain Lim,

I have recently developed a bad fear of flying even though I have flown many times before. After reading about mid air collision between a GOL airliner and a private jet in 2006 over Brazil, I keep thinking that it can happen to me...

What are the chances of mid air collisions? Are all airliners flying over the ocean equipped with a collision warning or some kind of a warning system?

My flight is about ten hours long - are pilots allowed to take a nap during the flight or are they always alert? How far apart are the planes when they are usually flying over the Atlantic or anywhere else? When I look at the traffic map, it seems they are all on each others tail and go down the same corridor.

Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.

Dmitriy Finkler

GOL Flight 1907 Part 1

Hi Dmitriy,

I have answered this question in a previous post in “How airplanes avoid colliding in the air?” and spoke about the use of TCAS (Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System) to reduce accidents. Yes, it was most unfortunate that the TCAS did not work in the Brazilian midair collision involving GOL and the private jet. If you watch the video below, it explains clearly why TCAS failed to work when it was most needed.

Please read another posting on whether pilots are allowed to take a nap here.

Over the Atlantic, planes are usually kept about 10 minutes apart (or at approximately 80 nautical miles spacing) but when it is under positive radar control, the spacing can go down to 5 nm or even 3 nm during the approach to land.

GOL Flight 1907 Part 2
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GOL Flight 1907 Part 3

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In other words TCAS on the aircraft only works when both impending aircraft's TCAS is switched on - and it looks like TCAS is not totally effective as there are still many planes esp private and some military aircraft that do not have TCAS or do not switch on their TCAS - as in military aircraft conducting certain missions.
william , 02 Feb, 2009
Effectiveness of TCAS

You are right. The Collision Avoidance System only works when both the aircraft's TCAS are switched on.

In such a case, it is up to the ground radar to provide the lateral (not the vertical) separation because it cannot show the altitude.
Captain Lim , 02 Feb, 2009

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