FLARM was invented in 2004 by three Swiss glider pilots/engineers, following many fatal mid-air collisions between gliders. Despite the VFR-principle of “see and avoid”, in many situations it’s virtually impossible to see the other aircraft. At that time, mid-air collisions represented the most common cause of fatal accidents in gliding. Most accidents also happened in good visibility and during daylight.
Urs Rothacher, Andrea Schlapbach, and Urban Mäder set off to design a system that would alert the pilots of an imminent collision and tell them where the intruder is, so they could take immediate action. After many sleepless nights, the first proof of concept was finished and it was a success! As one of the first examples of crowdfunding, enough pilots were then found to kickstart production.
Everybody that had FLARM of course wanted all their pilot friends to also have FLARM. That way, they could virtually eliminate the risk of a mid-air collision. Consequently, FLARM was heavily promoted by all glider pilots. Without any traditional marketing efforts, the number of FLARM installations increased exponentially.
As an additional feature, an innovative obstacle collision warning system was integrated with FLARM. Using an integrated obstacle database, the system warns when the pilot is about to fly into a power line, cableway, wind turbine, or other type of obstacle. The advanced collision algorithms make it possible to handle complex obstacle types, including segmented obstacles.
To speed up development, increase the rate of FLARM adaptation, and to be able to offer pilots integrated FLARM devices, FLARM Technology teamed up with several avionics manufacturers. These manufacturers produce everything from small FLARM devices to integrated EFIS systems.
In 2010, powered airplane pilots started inquiring for FLARM more and more. Glider pilots were also asking for better range and additional features. The technology behind FLARM was then modernized and PowerFLARM was developed. PowerFLARM was made fully compatible with all Classic FLARM devices, but was designed to be much faster and have substantially higher power and range. PowerFLARM has antenna diversity, meaning it’s possible to have one antenna on top of the aircraft and one below. It also comes with an ADS-B and transponder Mode-S receiver, to maximize the number of aircraft that can be detected.
Today, there are more than 40,000 aircraft flying with a FLARM system installed. In Central Europe, virtually 100 % of gliders have FLARM and would never fly without it. The largest growth is today however within the powered aircraft community. They have realized that the same benefits that gliders have from FLARM, apply to them as well. Especially with the shortcomings of ADS-B for collision avoidance purposes, many pilots and aircraft owners are looking for ways to not only feel safe, but to be safe.