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Situational awareness in aviation and its criticality

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    3rd Feb, 2023

Context:

A Court of Inquiry has been set up to ascertain the cause of the crash of an IAF Sukhoi-30 (Su-30) and a Mirage-2000.

Details of the news:

  • The two fighter jets had taken off from the Gwalior air baseon a training sortie.
  • The Mirage-2000 crashed at Morena, Madhya Pradesh, killing its pilot Wing Commander Hanumanth Rao Sarathi.
  • The Su-30 crashed at Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Both pilots in the Su-30 ejected
  • The inquiry will establish the exact cause of the crash.
  • The investigation is likely to ascertain, among other things, if loss of ‘Situational Awareness(SA)’ was one of the factors responsible for the tragedy.

What is situational awareness (SA) in aviation?

  • Simply put, it’s the cockpit crew’s mental picture of the aircraft’s locationin relation to the terrain and other aircraft in the vicinity in a constantly changing.
  • An aircraft is constantly in motion and moves at great speed covering huge distances; presenting an ever-changing SA, the crew has to keep up with.
  • The crew builds this ‘mental model’from the array of cockpit instruments, maps, charts, data being fed from outside (ATC, other pilots) and even ‘looking outside’ on a clear day.

Why is SA important for Civilian flying?

  • To avoid accidents: The loss of SA has caused mid-air collisions between civilian aircraft too, especially in airspace near airports where traffic is high with several planes taking off or preparing to land around the same time.
  • Maintain terrain identifications: Loss of SA has also caused passenger jets to collidewith mountains in poor visibility.

Technologies like the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) and the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) have vastly helped improve the cockpit crew’s SA and, consequently, prevent potential collisions, in mid-air or with the terrain.

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