Monday, June 15, 2009

In Canada as of July 1st, if we want to do charter flights we need TCAS 1 at a minimum. If we want to fly above 29,000' (and jets generally do, for fuel efficiency) then we need to get TCAS 2. Private flights are unaffected.

Those of you in the USA are probably going "What? Is the FAA really going to make all charter aircraft install incredibly expensive equipment?" Nope. This rule is Canadian-only, which I find really surprising - usually Transport Canada follows the FAA's, but apparently in this case they wanted to lead the charge toward mandatory expensive equipment additions during the recession.

Oh, you are also probably saying "Sully, I'm not currently wearing Raybans and epaulets while fondling my 4-lb pilot watch, so perhaps I'm not familiar with the term TCAS".

Basically, it displays other aircraft and tells us if we are going to occupy the same space at the same time as them. Pilot-geek-wise, TCAS = Traffic Collision Avoidance System. There's another acronym called ACAS in which 'Traffic' becomes 'Airborne', but they mean the same thing.

The difference between TCAS 1 and TCAS 2 is fairly important. TCAS 1 will tell you if it predicts a collision with another airplane, but it's up to you to take a course of action to avoid it. TCAS 2 will tell you about a predicted conflict, AND tell you what it wants you to do to avoid it. You see when a plane with TCAS 2 talks to another plane with TCAS 2 and they determine that a conflict exists, the units in each airplane will actually talk to each other to coordinate an escape plan, so that both planes don't climb or descend at the same time and still hit each other. One unit will tell their plane to climb and the other unit will tell the other plane to descend, which is pretty sensible. With TCAS 1, the units don't talk to each other, but they will show the relative bearing and altitude of the offending airplane so the pilot can decide whether a climb or descent is most appropriate.

In the simulator, when we train with TCAS 2 they tell us to trust the equipment over anything else - if you are flying along and you get a TCAS warning to descend but the Air Traffic Controller is telling you to climb, then descend. A nasty accident in Russia a few years back resulted from a TCAS alert that the crew disregarded in deference to Air Traffic Control orders - the TCAS told them to climb but ATC told them to descend, so they descended, right into another aircraft, killing all 69 people on both aircraft.

Now when I bring that up, I don't want to give you the impression that mid-air collisions are common in aviation because they really aren't. The sky is a big place and usually the "see-and-avoid" system works great for VFR flight and the "Air Traffic Controller probably doesn't want to see me die today" system works acceptably for IFR flight. But someone in Transport Canada decided that it was an issue anyway, so here we are.

Long story made longer - we do enough charters in Canada (being based at Toronto Pearson and all) that we will bite the bullet and install TCAS in our plane. In fact, my beloved baby jet is getting some expensive electronic boxes added as I type these words, and we are hopeful she'll be done by Friday. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Let's go back a few months, when I started looking around at different systems and costs. I went over our charter records for the past few years and saw that we have done precisely 1 long charter within Canada and the other hundred were either to the USA or to locations in Canada that are close enough (Ottawa, Montreal) that flying above 29,000' isn't really an issue. Also, we are really close to the US border and once we cross into US airspace we can climb as high as we want, so it has zero effect on US charters, which again make up 99% of our charter revenue stream.

I noted with horror that TCAS 2 costs about $110,000 MORE than TCAS 1, and saw that it would take us many years of Canadian charters to recoup the extra 110k in costs that TCAS 2 would come with. As a point of reference, 110k is about 10% of the cost of the plane (in today's market), and the resale value added is minimal because the equipment isn't mandatory in the US. It's just not worth it for our operation and this airplane - if we get a chance to do a charter to Vancouver or something then we'll just have to fly at 29,000' and grit our teeth through the increased fuel burn, but we'll still make a few bucks on the trip, so it'd still be worth it.

I also researched different systems in the hopes that someone makes a TCAS 1 system that's upgradeable to TCAS 2 down the road. One company does, the Honeywell CAS 66/67 system, but you end up paying about 45k more if you get the CAS 66 and eventually upgrade it to the 67 than if you just buy the complete 67 package - I guess it isn't THAT upgradeable after all.

Anyway, now comes the interesting part (about time! you say). I sent out lots of requests for install quotes for both a TCAS 1 and TCAS 2 system. I sent requests all through Canada as well as the US, and of course hit up all the local avionics installation places around Toronto.

All the quotes I got could fill a book, but I'll just share a few.

Here are some TCAS 2 quotes for the Honeywell CAS 67 system, installed:

From a local Toronto business - 183k
When Kitsch called the same business they gave him a quote for 178k, so I guess his phone voice is a lot sexier than mine.
From another local Toronto business - 138k
From a third Toronto supplier - 312k
From a place in Illinois - 154k (144k if we bring them 3 or more airplanes)
From a place in Florida - 144k

Yes, the 'third toronto supplier' actually wanted 140k more to install the exact same system as their competitors. If you don't believe me, PM me and I'll happily email you pdfs of the quotes so you can disbelieve your own eyes. I don't know how one can offer any service in the sky with prices like that, but maybe that's just me.

Now for TCAS 1, the Skywatch HP System in TCAS 1 mode:

Local Toronto business - 65k
Another Toronto Business - 88k
Third Toronto Supplier - wouldn't quote it as it wasn't enough profit for them
From a place in Florida - 43k
From a place in Pennsylvania - 28k

So we went with the place in Pennsylvania - we flew the plane down last week and she's already mostly finished the installation. If the installation goes well (and as an atheist I'm still praying it does) , I'll make sure to publish the name of the place in case you feel like dropping some serious coin on some magic boxes. Anyway, once we get the plane back I'll take a little video so you can see the system in action - coming into Toronto Pearson should give it a good workout as there are about a dozen planes in the neighborhood at all times. Hmm, now that I think about it, maybe ignorance was bliss when we couldn't see all the shiny metal tubes hurtling toward us at hundreds of miles an hour...


fche said...

I never understood the distinction Transport Canada wanted to make w.r.t. TCAS-I vs. ACAS (such as the Avidyne 6xx TAS machines) devices. The capabilities are about the same (aural warnings, 20nm range, MFD interconnection, active transponder interrogation), but the costs are smaller.

But as for the value of traffic sensing, maybe you won't love it, but since I fly down low a lot, I consider that $20K one of my best investments in the plane.

Peter said...

Of course if you do a flight to Vancouver, you can always try to get routing through the US. Though then I'm sure you have to let Homeland Security know the colour of everyone's undergarments...

ScurvyDog said...

Yet another desk jockey at TC who figured out how to make Canadian operators spend 100's of thousands! Its hard to believe they want charter operators in the sky at all. If they looked at the economics of the average charter they would realize this equipment will be paid off years up the road if ever!

Aviatrix said...

I'm actually surprised that you haven't had any kind of TCAS all this time.

Also, why does the "obey the rules corresponding to your country of registration, unless the host country has more restrictive rules" principle allow you to operate in the US without the TC-mandated equipment?

Anonymous said...

Just for the record: That TCAS related crash you are talking about (and providing a link for) was over German territory (or more correctly, near the border between Germany and Switzerland), not somewhere in Russia. ;-)



Splendor said...

I'm actually slightly surprised that you don't need 8.33 KHz radios, enhanced Mode S transponders and other equally expensive gadgets as well... All of the above are required in Europe above FL195 and I have a feeling that floor will be getting lower and lower.

Still an unpleasant surprise when money is precious I guess.


G said...

In terminal areas it's pretty handy. It's useful for maintaining spacing behind traffic - and knowing when an ATC speed restriction is about to be issued. Also while you're being vectored on a long downwind, you can "see" the hole in the final approach line where ATC is about to turn you back in...

If your system shows trailing traffic you also see when it would be a good idea to clear the runway quickly after touchdown!!!

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