EASA approves FLARM for helicopters

FLARM in action. A V4 LED display (top center of the instrument panel) indicates a collision warning and shows direction to the intruder.

EASA has formally approved FLARM for fixed installation in helicopters. Being already installed in over 40,000 General Aviation aircraft, helicopter operators previously had to apply for individual installation approvals from EASA or use PowerFLARM Portable. The newly published EASA Certification Memorandum (CM) extends generic FLARM installations from ELA2 aircraft (previously available as a Standard Change or an AML-based Minor Change) to all CS‑23, CS‑27 and CS‑29 aircraft, including all rotorcraft.

“This is a huge advancement for GA safety in Europe”, said Daniel Hoffmann, General Manager at FLARM Technology. “We have seen a massive increase in demand for FLARM from helicopter operators all around Europe in just the last two years. In Switzerland, almost all helicopters already have FLARM since a few years. In Germany and other European countries, many large operators, including the Federal Police, ADAC and DRF, have FLARM installed in their large helicopter fleets”.

The newly published CM will enable both operators and aircraft manufacturers to easily integrate FLARM. It is also one of the first times that EASA has ever applied the ‘Net Safety Benefit’ approach in their certification activities. “EASA has taken the over 100 million flight hours of FLARM into account”, said Hoffmann. “We have estimated that FLARM has saved over 50 lives in the last fifteen years. At the same time, there have been no incidents where FLARM was a causal factor”.

The CM approves FLARM for both VFR and IFR under VMC but does not give credit against ADS-B Out and TCAS requirements (applicable for aircraft above 5,700 kg MTOM).

“This also opens the door for the whole certified avionics market”, said Hoffmann. “We are currently in discussions with several certified avionics manufacturers about both integration of FLARM as well as display compatibility with standalone FLARM systems”.

FLARM systems are available from several different manufacturers for many different aircraft types.

FLARM receives UK BGA Safety Award

FLARM has been awarded the UK BGA’s Bill Scull Safety Award during AERO 2019. The motivation for the award from the BGA is as follows:

Bill Scull was a very active safety practitioner in gliding. The Bill Scull award is presented annually to a person or organisation for services to gliding safety.

Mid-air collisions have killed 33 UK glider pilots since 1975. Almost all mid-air glider collisions are with another glider, and they mainly happen in the dynamic situations in thermals and around airfields, where other gliders can be hidden from sight behind the glider structure.

In 2004, three Swiss glider pilots applied their engineering expertise to design a system that would alert pilots about an imminent collision and give an indication of the direction in which the threat lay.

Today, most of the active UK glider fleet carries the FLARM system that they invented; we have had no glider-glider collisions since 2014 – the first time that there have been four such years in a row; and there has only ever been one collision between FLARM-equipped gliders.

Having invented the FLARM system and designed the first devices, Urs, Andrea and Urban continued to develop the system to improve its performance, adapt its behaviour for competitions, add functionality to measure antenna performance and find lost gliders and to build in an obstacle database. New versions allowed multiple antennas for better coverage, and detection of powered aircraft equipped with transponders or ADS-B.

FLARM’s complex path prediction algorithms mean that it remains the only collision alerting system that is effective in the close manoeuvring situations such as thermals in which gliders spend so much time.

For devising, manufacturing, sustaining and continuing to develop this exceptional safety system, which has helped prevent collisions and save glider pilots’ lives across Europe, Urs, Andrea and Urban are deserving recipients of the Bill Scull safety award.


HEMS BVLOS Drone with FLARM-based Detect & Avoid

Swiss HEMS-operator Rega presented a new type of aircraft for searching for missing persons: the newly developed Rega drone can autonomously scan large search areas and is equipped with various sensors, such as a thermal camera. As a result, in future, Rega will have at its disposal an additional device to help it search for people in distress if the helicopter has to remain on the ground due to poor visibility.

“We observed the development of drone technology from an early stage and were always convinced that drones could be of help in particular on search missions,” says Head of Helicopter Operations Sascha Hardegger. However, there is currently no drone system on the market that meets all of Rega’s requirements. In particular, it is not possible to operate a relatively small, lightweight and flexible drone over a distance of several kilometres and for several hours without visual contact with the drone pilot. “As a result, we took the initiative and decided to develop a Rega drone ourselves in collaboration with suitable partners”.

With its three rotor blades, a rotor diameter of just over two metres and 10 kg payload, the new Rega drone looks like a mini helicopter. During a search mission, it scans large search areas precisely and autonomously (16 km2 in 2 hours with 80 km/h). It is able to independently detect and avoid other aircraft or obstacles, such as helicopters and overhead cables. This is possible thanks to anti-collision systems, coupled with countless data stored in the drone’s in-flight computer, such as digital models of the terrain and obstacle databases. The drone operates without visual contact with the pilot (BVLOS), has an endurance of 3 hours and maximal speed of 120 km/h.

With two redundant GNSS receivers, the Rega drone flies autonomously on a predefined route. It follows the topography of the terrain at an altitude of around 80–100 metres above ground level. In addition, a ground radar is built into the drone. Like many aircraft in Switzerland, the drone is equipped with the FLARM anti-collision system. The FLARM signals are evaluated on board. If necessary, the drone will automatically alter its flight path in order to avoid an impending collision.

Thanks to the FLARM anti-collision warning system, the drone is mutually recognisable electronically by other aircraft from a considerable distance. The drone pilot at the ground control station is constantly connected with the so-called U-space. This is an air traffic management system that is currently being set up to coordinate unmanned aircraft in jointly used airspace. It aims to prevent the drone from getting dangerously close to known air traffic.

For the event that, despite all the precautions described above, the Rega drone does get dangerously close to an aircraft and runs the risk of colliding with it, it is equipped with an active, automatic anticollision function (detect & avoid, DAA). Based on the signals transmitted by the FLARM anti-collision warning system, the drone autonomously alters its flight path in good time to avoid colliding with the other aircraft. Around 80 percent of all aircraft in Switzerland, including all of Rega’s helicopters, are voluntarily equipped with FLARM, and the system is also becoming increasingly popular with paraglider pilots. This collision avoidance function will soon be enhanced with a built-in radar device to avoid non-cooperative traffic.

10,000th PowerFLARM sold

Steve Halliwell (left) receiving the 10,000th PowerFLARM customer certificate from Mike Pettican, LX Avionics (right) in front of Steve’s MD 500 where the PowerFLARM system was installed.

Today, we are proud to announce that we have delivered the 10,000th PowerFLARM system to a UK customer. Since its invention in 2004, nearly 40,000 FLARM systems have been installed in all types of manned airplanes and rotorcraft. PowerFLARM was introduced to cater to the demands of powered airplane and helicopter pilots. With tripled detection range, antenna diversity, better interference protection, ADS-B/transponder receiver and better and intuitive obstacle warnings, PowerFLARM can warn for impending collisions with all aircraft and obstacle types.

The 10,000th PowerFLARM customer was Steve Halliwell from Manchester. He installed the PowerFLARM system in his Hughes MD 500 helicopter to be able to avoid other light aircraft and obstacles. When once flying his helicopter in a mountainous area, he was within 100 ft of colliding with another aircraft head-on. Next time something similar happens, the PowerFLARM will give him a timely collision warning so he can avoid a collision without a scare.

The PowerFLARM system was sold by LX Avionics at Turweston Aerodrome (EGBT).

GPS Week Rollover

The US DoD GPS system provides essential positioning and timing information to many applications in daily use and aviation including FLARM. As part of the GPS design, the time is encoded in a format which restarts at zero every 1024 weeks (or merely 20 years), next time in the evening of April 6, 2019.

This is currently widely discussed on the aviation community, EASA today has published a Safety Information Bulletin.

The manufacturer of the GPS receiver modules used in all of your end-user products has confirmed to us already in May 2018 that these “modules have been tested and can handle the year 2019 GPS week number rollover without issue”.


New 2019 Obstacle Data Available

Two years ago, we released dramatically improved algorithms on PowerFLARM devices to assess the collision risk with fixes obstacles such as cable cars, antennas and wind turbines. Recently, we have worked hard to improve both the regional coverage, the number of obstacles, its level of detail, as well as the fidelity of obstacle data. These improvements are available for all FLARM devices to give you the best possible protection.

New for this year, we now offer high-resolution databases for the following regions: Austria & Slovenia, France, Germany, Northwest Italy, Northeast Italy, Switzerland, and UK & Ireland. These databases provide the maximum level of detail, as is preferred by regional, low-level, and low visibility operators for example in the helicopter air-work and HEMS/MEDEVAC domains. This is also the best choice for recreational pilots who operate regionally.

An updated European Alps database is also available, covering the entire Alpine region. It has been optimized to accommodate feedback from customers: A massive amount of critical cables throughout the Alps have been added from new data sources. To compensate for the increased data volume, vertical antennas, towers, wind turbines and power lines have been removed (with some regional exceptions). These objects are typically highly visible and do not normally pose a threat to recreational flying. In this database, power lines near airports have also been removed to avoid nuisance warnings during approach and departure, a request regularly raised from fixed-wing flight schools.

Each database is available in our webshop and is priced at EUR 35 (VAT may apply). We also offer periodic (e.g. monthly/AIRAC) large-fleet updates for various regions on request, contact us for conditions and pricing. All databases should be renewed at least annually and expire after January 31, 2020.

Only one database can be stored in the device at a time. Switching between databases is possible via SD card or USB stick, but not recommended in flight. Only one obstacle file must be present on the SD card or USB stick for proper installation during the device booting process. The installation process may erase flight logs, so we recommend retrieving the logs prior to installing a new database. Consult the device manual for specific instructions.

In the future and depending on customer demand, we intend to also cover Benelux, Scandinavia, Spain & Portugal, as well as selected regions of Eastern Europe and North America.

Fully-automated long-range UAV flights

Nice examples of two recent long-range UAV flights across Switzerland using FLARM as the only onboard technology to stay clear of other traffic.

The two independent project – one form ETH Zurich, one from a Locarno-based company – both target a fully autonomous beyond-line-of-sight fixed-wing drone flight in uncontrolled airspace using our FLARM UAV design to detect and avoid manned traffic, to be detectable by manned traffic and to be tracked by professional ground tracking services. FLARM was the only onboard traffic technology, neither ADS-B nor transponders were used.

The Oblivion Aerial project flew in December 2018 over a distance of nearly 100km, crossing the Swiss Alps. For legal reasons, the entire flight was accompanied by a manned aircraft capable of remote controlling the UAV in case required; no approval for the flight was required. Watch the video here.

The ETH Zurich project flew early January 2019, crossed the Lake of Neuchâtel at around 350ft above ground, lasted for a bit more than one hour, ended as planned on a normal airport and had an overall length of about 70km. The flight was unaccompanied. No specific danger zone was established. The flight and operations were approved by the Swiss CAA FOCA according to JARUS SORA standard procedures. Watch an interview here.

Swisscom Tests Smart Airspace Management for Drones Based on their LTE Network and FLARM

For the drone revolution to happen, applications first need to scale to be profitable, requiring a high level of automation. The largest obstacle for automation is the management of airspace: Allowing all manned and unmanned participant fair, efficient and safe access to airspace while maximizing capacity at low cost.

Traditional Air Traffic Control (ATC) struggles to provide this, with many of their processes being controlled by human operators. Clearly, new concepts are needed to achieve the scalability and automation that we need.

During the annual Innovation Week in summer 2018, Swisscom demonstrated a proof of concept that addresses the need for improving flight awareness in the lower airspace. The focus was on interoperability between legacy and new aircraft communication technologies. By aggregating multiple methods of connectivity, a much more detailed coverage of the airspace can be achieved. This concept can be seen as a supplement to the U-Space project recently announced by Skyguide, Switzerland’s Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP).

The following systems were incorporated into the solution:

  • FLARM, the leading traffic awareness and collision avoidance technology for General Aviation, light aircraft and UAVs. Over 35,000 manned aircraft and many UAVs are already equipped with FLARM and the number is rapidly increasing. The new FLARM eID standard was developed specifically for the needs of commercial UAV operators, allowing secure tracking and identification of UAVs.
  • ADS-B, a system used by large commercial airliners to make aircraft visible to ATC with high accuracy.
  • Swisscom’s LTE cellular network for connecting UAVs to U-Space and other infrastructure services, like ground receiver networks for FLARM and ADS-B.

Combining these data sources, a more complete picture of the airspace can be obtained and presented to the drone operator and U-Space service providers. The solution was successfully demonstrated to remotely detect a conflict provoked by an intruding aircraft, leading to automatic evasive action by the drone.

For more details, contact Manuel.Haag@swisscom.com or andrea.schlapbach@flarm.com.

Learning Series: Basel Flight School

Pierre Troendle (left) and Thomas Wittwer (right) preparing for the proficiency check.

Basel Flight School is located at the tripoint between Germany, Switzerland and France, at Basel international airport. The school was founded in 1967 and was one of the first flight schools to equip its fleet with a FLARM collision avoidance system. All aircraft, a variety of Piper and Tecnam training airplanes, were equipped almost 10 years ago – except for one. For a variety of reasons, the oldest airplane, an almost 40 years old Piper Turbo Arrow, was not equipped. Regrettably, this exact airplane was involved in a mid-air collision in January 2018. It collided over southern Germany with an EC-135 helicopter from the German air ambulance operator DRF Luftrettung. The instructor and student in the Piper as well as the crew in the helicopter died in the crash.

The EC-135 helicopter, like many helicopters in Germany, was equipped with FLARM. That did unfortunately not help in this case, since this Piper did not have FLARM, as mentioned above. Would it also have been equipped, it would almost certainly have avoided the disaster. Thomas Wittwer, Chief Flying Instructor at Basel Flight School, says that today he makes sure that all aircraft that he flies have an operating FLARM system. We met Thomas at the flight school during a rainy morning in March, while preparing a proficiency check with his student Pierre Troendle in his own Partenavia P.68 twin.

Thomas, why did you install FLARM in your aircraft fleet?

I have been flying many different aircraft types for over 30 years and have over 12.000 flight hours, most of which as an instructor. During my carrier, I have had three serious airprox incidents. The closest was around five years ago when I was flying an airplane in Germany that didn’t have FLARM. Close to a glider site, coming from nowhere, a glider crossed just in front of us at the same altitude. He passed from right to left and obviously didn’t see us either. We passed just a few meters behind him.

The second time, we were descending while another airplane was below us and descending as well. We were both flying the same track. We could not see him since he was below us. We were descending faster, and we noticed him just before crossing his altitude not many seconds behind him.

The third time was in a military training aircraft. Suddenly, the student says to me: “Look, the sky is on fire”. It took a few seconds until I realized that two Tornado fighter jets were coming straight at us at high speed. I quickly banked the aircraft to increase the chance that they see us, which they did about 2 seconds before impact. Both started turning and one passed to our left and one to our right.

I think I have had enough luck not to want to risk anything like this again. Since I started using FLARM, I haven’t had any similar incidents.

What has been your experience using FLARM?

It has saved me four times, where I didn’t see the other aircraft before I got the FLARM collision warning. I never fly without FLARM anymore. For example for today’s flight, Pierre doesn’t yet have FLARM installed in his aircraft, so I’m bringing the PowerFLARM Portable with me. Pierre has been interested in installing FLARM for a while, so this is also a great opportunity for him to try it out.

Pierre Troendle setting up the PowerFLARM Portable for the flight.

What do your students and instructors say about FLARM?

If you ask any instructor with a few years in the business, they have all had at least one serious airprox. The problem is that we generally don’t talk about these incidents. That’s of course not good from a safety perspective. Most instructors that I know love FLARM once they have used it.

And many students are shocked by the number of aircraft out there that cannot be seen otherwise. Many are not in contact with ATS so there is no way of being alerted of an impending collision without a collision avoidance system. Luckily, most aircraft in Switzerland and Germany carry FLARM. For other aircraft, PowerFLARM, which we now have, can also receive and warn about transponder and ADS-B Out equipped aircraft.

Are there any challenges using FLARM?

I think the most important one is training. Airline pilots receive both theoretical and simulator training about TCAS. Many GA pilots however have no FLARM training. The system just sits there. First, it’s important to realize that it’s a collision avoidance system and not a map you should constantly be looking at. Second, you need a strategy what to do when you get a collision warning. You should first try to visually acquire the other aircraft. But many people don’t realize that if you cannot see the other aircraft, you still have to do something! The risk is otherwise high that you will collide. From this perspective, I like the LED FLARM displays, because they focus on the collision warnings and don’t steal instrument time.

Another thing is to ensure that the antenna installation is done properly. FLARM uses low power to reduce frequency congestion, and thus doesn’t suffer from the same problems as the 1090 MHz frequency. However, this also makes the antenna installation important. We currently use the internal antennas and have sufficient range in most directions. Some of the aircraft however have limited range is some directions, so we will soon start installing the external AV-75 antennas on the aircraft.

What do you recommend as a resolution when receiving a collision warning?

Either make a 90 degree turn (left or right) or change altitude, based on the circumstances. And realize that you have to act immediately. When you receive the first collision warning, you have no more than 18 seconds to the collision, minus the time you spend looking for the aircraft.

Are there any disadvantages with FLARM?

The only one I can think of is that not all aircraft have FLARM. It should be mandatory for all light aircraft. Many more lives could be saved if everyone had FLARM. We are halfway there in Europe and even more so in Switzerland. But the last percentile is always the most difficult.

Why do you think FLARM has become so prominent in the last years?

First, there are more aircraft today than a few years ago. But what I think is even more important is that airspace has become much more complex, so VFR pilots have to rely on moving map systems to a greater extent. Nobody wants an airspace infringement and subsequent fine. This leads to pilots looking down instead of out the window. This of course increases the risk of a mid-air collision.

What would you say to other flight schools and flying clubs that don’t yet have FLARM?

What are you waiting for? FLARM is proven to have saved many lives. The system is not expensive. There is simply no excuse today not to have FLARM. And make sure that all students and members receive some basic FLARM training, so they know what to do when they receive a collision warning. Your club members and students will thank you.

Thank you very much for the chat. And have a nice flight!

Thank you, I’m sure we will.