What are the chances of colliding with another plane?

The sky above us is an enormous area.  However, there are literally thousands of airplanes flying above the continental United States at most times of the day.  Some people with a fear of flying might worry that, with so many planes in the sky, their flight could possibly collide with another aircraft.  Fortunately, there are a number of reasons why that will never happen.

First, all airline flights are operated in coordination with Air Traffic Control (ATC).  This means that all airplanes are being monitored and guided by highly trained and experienced controllers on the ground.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which is tasked by the Federal Government with monitoring all aspects of airline operations also oversees the training, certification, and operation of all controllers.  Years of specialized training and experience are combined with sophisticated radar and communications networks, enabling Air Traffic Controllers to guarantee that all planes are safely and efficiently routed to their destination.  As such, all of the airliners in the sky are required to maintain minimum levels of separation with respect to vertical and horizontal distances.  Using radar and two-way radio, controllers direct the planes from takeoff until touchdown.  Flight paths and altitudes are continuously monitored and adjusted so as to ensure minimum safe distances between planes, while also improving the flow of traffic between cities.

However, highly skilled human beings are not the only means of preventing mid-air collisions.  Each and every airliner also has an onboard computer that offers a fail-safe backup.  This “Traffic Collision and Avoidance System” (TCAS) monitors your airplane’s position and communicates with the TCAS computers onboard other airplanes.  The computer basically tracks the flight paths and altitudes of all planes operating in the area.  It then calculates whether or not another plane’s trajectory could result in that plane coming too close to your flight.  If there is even a slight possibility of a conflict, a warning goes off to alert the pilots.   And that’s the best part: the computer does not wait for there to be a “close call” before taking action.  It is always actively searching for possible conflicts well before the two planes are anywhere near each other.  This means that warnings may be issued when the planes are over 3 miles away from each other with as long as 45 seconds before their paths would cross.  Granted, 45 seconds may not sound like a lot, but if you stop and count right now to 45, you will see that it is quite a lot of time.

In addition, the TCAS system does one other crucial job.  When there is a potential conflict between the paths of two planes, the TCAS computers onboard each plane also communicate with each other.    They monitor the horizontal and vertical path of each plane and then determine what directional changes must be made in order to avoid a collision.  The end result is both an audible and visual message to the pilots, instructing them on how to avoid the other plane.  Usually, this means telling one of the planes to climb and the other to descend.  Pilots are trained to respond to any TCAS warning immediately and ensure that their plane maintains a safe distance from all other aircraft.  The end result is a fool-proof guarantee that your flight remains a safe distance from every single airplane in the sky!

– What are the chances of colliding with another plane?-

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2 Responses to What are the chances of colliding with another plane?

  1. Great post, I fly a lot to visit friends and family. I would say that flying is the safest method of transport 🙂

    Mind you, I mainly get short internal flights – still safe though!

  2. Yeah, it can get pretty busy around airports. But, it’s always nice to know that every plane is separated by a minimum safe distance.

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