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8 Answers

Traffic Information Services (TIS) alerts – Distracting During Flight Training?

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Flight Instructor, General Aviation, Student Pilot

Question 1

I am training on a C172 G1000 with TIS and this afternoon in the training area there were 4 other planes within a 4 mile radius flying randomly at vartious altitiudes I assume practicing stuff for their check rides.

I am the student and I felt uncomfortable with the traffic especially because I could not get visual on any of the other planes.  My instructor suggested turning off the TIS as it was disstracting me and making me nervous (which it was) but my gut feel was we should visual the traffic or fly somewhere else less crowded.

I am interested on the thoughts of other CFIs as to the effectiveness of TIS and when to let it concern me in flight.

Question 2

I find that when turning even sometimes only 90 degrees the TIS gives a false alert in which it appears to locate my own plane as the traffic.  It's happened to me a few times now but usually scared the hell out of you the first couple of times it happens (including my instructors.)  Is your experience with TIS that this often happens?


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8 Answers

  1. John D. Collins on Jan 25, 2012

    I have TIS in my aircraft and would not want to be without it, even with its limitations.  I have found it difficult to see other GA traffic that displays on my GNS530W screen until it is within 2 NM.  I pay attention to the symbol, the altitude difference, and the vector direction information to help determine if the target aircraft is a threat.  You won’t hit an aircraft that is at a different altitude. As long as the symbol is an open diamond, it is not considered a threat, either because of distance or altitude.  When the diamond turns solid white, it is of interest to me and I want to spot any such traffic when inside of the 2 mile ring.  If it gets to the alarm status, it turns to a solid yellow circle, and I want to have the traffic in sight before this happens or maneuver to avoid its path and altitude.  The relative position of the target and the track vector on the target are crude and I would give less weight to this, especially when you or the target aircraft are turning.


    It is annoying and can be a little alarming when you get the traffic alert and it turns out to be your own airplane. I find that this tends to happen if you are turning rapidly or have just shown up in radar coverage, for example during your initial climb after takeoff.  Regardless, you have to keep your eyes open and constantly scanning for traffic, clearing your turns and climbs. Just consider the TIS as an aid in scanning for traffic.

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  2. Nathan Parker on Jan 25, 2012

    I’ve never had a TIS warning that I felt contributed to the safety of flight.  Midairs aren’t near the top of my list of things to worry about, except right around the airport or near particular landmarks that are often used for training.  When you’re actually in a high density traffic area, and the risk of collision is higher than normal, that’s when I feel that TIS is even less useful, because it has alerts popping up all over the place.
    My view on the items that contribute to reducing the risk of midair coillisions are, from most effective to least effective:

    Use the radio appropriately.
    Fly the airplane in a predictable way (e.g, standard, AIM-recommended patterns,)
    Maintain a visual scan.


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  3. Jay on Jan 26, 2012

    My students and I train in a very high density training environment. I find the TIS information we get on the MFD to be extremely valuable for situational awareness, especially when we have four or five aircraft in a practice area all practicing maneuvers. Similar to what John said above, I just keep an eye on the altitudes and vectors every once in a while to help me decide where to look for visual contact and to determine what is a threat. 
    Having said that, I can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain a visual scan at all times. I find that the shiny glass cockpits provide a wealth of information, but they also tend to distract people from being VFR pilots and looking outside. Also, frequent position reports on the appropriate frequency are key. Let people know where you are, what altitude you’re at, and how you intend to maneuver the airplane. TIS is just a supplemental tool to help you fly safely. 

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  4. David Cooper on Jan 26, 2012

    I practice in a fairly high traffic area, so I’m very glad to have TIS in my aircraft. Yes, it does seem to cry Wolf! occasionally, but better that than not at all. When that white diamond turns yellow, I really appreciate the heads up if I haven’t already spotted the traffic. I find the TIS to be annoying when it says “Traffic Not Available” when I’m landing or talking with the tower. Otherwise, it’s worth every penny to me.

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  5. Wes Beard on Jan 26, 2012

    Maybe a little history of TIS is in order. Back when aviation started, there was a prevailing concept called the Big Sky thoeiry

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  6. Wes Beard on Jan 26, 2012

    I don’t know why the rest of my post didn’t show up.
    The Big Sky theory stated that the sky was so big that it was statistically improbable for another aircraft to hit another aircraft.
    The big sky theory has a lot of faults and midair collisions do happen.  A better philosophy was the “see and avoid” concept.  Pilots would diligently scan the horizon for another aircraft in an attempt to see it before they occupied the same space at the same time.  TCAS and TIS are the electronci versions of this philosophy.
    The AIM has a lot of good information on how the TIS system works and I would encourage you to read it.  A mode S transponder will create a datalink connection within the service volume of a radar station that has that capability.  The TIS system will download the radar controllers screen and decipher the information and display it on your screen.  The TIS system, at first, doesn’t quite know which aircraft is its own, so as a precaution will usually place an aircraft right on top of your location till it can figure out which one you are.  Notice that it is a precaution and can be programmed out but that programming can potentially hide other aircraft in the area so it is something we need to live with.  As soon as the TIS system figures out which is your aircraft it will remove that aircraft from the MFD.
    I think it is a perception problem.  I would try to scale the MFD down to a smaller setting so the aircraft are farther apart.  This will give you a better physical idea of how far away the aircraft are.  If you can arrange to separate the other aircraft by roads you can easily verify the other aircraft are staying in their zone by using the TIS system. 

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  7. Nathan Parker on Jan 26, 2012

    The “Big Sky Theory” is still the main reason we don’t hit other aircraft.  While looking for traffic is important, the NTSB has pointed out that this isn’t a very effective procedure, a conclusion supported by extensive reasearch and analysis.  Often by the time other aircraft can be seen, the relative closure rate is so high that avoidance isn’t possible.

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  8. Wes Beard on Jan 28, 2012

    I’m confused.  Aren’t we saying the same things?  I find the TIS information to be an invaluable source of information in helping to see the aircraft.  It graphically shows me where to look as well as if I should be looking hi or low on the horizon.  Why isn’t then that you don’t like the TIS or TCAS system? 

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