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Prof. Dr.

Mustafa Cavcar 1
Airspeeds and Two Descending Aircraft

Prof.Dr. Mustafa Cavcar
Anadolu University, School of Civil Aviation,
Eskiehir, Turkey
mcavcar@anadolu.edu.tr

When combined with the vertical speed (rate of climb or rate of descend) flight
airspeed of the aircraft defines a vertical flight trajectory for an aircraft. There are
cases in a real air traffic environment, especially within terminal areas, where
these trajectories conflict, i.e. intersect, so that two aircraft may collide or pass
closely harming flight safety. Therefore, trajectory prediction is a critical aspect
of the air traffic control. However, trajectory prediction requires a better
understanding of aircraft airspeeds.

Consider two aircraft descending on the same track from different altitudes with
different airspeeds as shown in Figure 1. First aircraft is approaching with 300
KCAS and descending with 1000 fpm, and second aircraft is approaching with
340 KCAS and descending with 2800 fpm. Initially, first aircraft is at FL100, and
second aircraft is at FL180 while horizontal separation between them is 8 nm
*
.
Now, lets see how these two aircraft come closer causing a conflict, although
there is a great difference between their calibrated (indicated) airspeeds and flight
levels at the beginning.

Figure 1 Two aircraft descending on the same track

*
This example is an abstract from the Reference document given here. However, some calculation
corrections are applied.
Prof. Dr. Mustafa Cavcar 2

Table 1 Positions of the two aircraft versus time
t [min] KCAS KTAS h [ft] Distance Flown [nm]
FIRST AIRCRAFT
0 300 345 10 000 0
1 300 340 9 000 5.7
2 300 336 8 000 11.3
3 300 331 7 000 16.9
4 300 326 6 000 22.4
5 300 322 5 000 27.8
SECOND AIRCRAFT
0 340 438 18 000 0
1 340 420 15 200 7.1
2 340 404 12 400 14.0
3 340 388 9 600 20.6
4 340 373 6 800 26.9
5 340 359 4 000 33.0

Table 2 Relative positions of the two aircraft versus time
t [min] CAS TAS h [ft] Horiz. Separation [nm]
0 40 93 8 000 8
1 40 80 6 200 6.6
2 40 68 4 400 5.3
3 40 57 2 600 4.3
4 40 47 800 3.5
5 40 37 -1 000 2.8

As seen from Tables 1 and 2, while the difference in calibrated airspeeds of two
aircraft stays constant, the difference between true airspeeds reduces as both
aircraft continue descent, thus two aircraft comes closer horizontally. However,
on the other hand, due to higher descent rate of the second aircraft, vertical
distance between the two aircraft also decreases. Finally, the initial horizontal
separation of 8 nm and initial vertical separation of 8000 ft reduce to 3.5 nm
horizontal separation and 800 ft vertical separation within 4 minutes. Although
there is no collision taking place, flight safety is risked.

Reference

[1] Dumaitre, P., Air Traffic Control and Operating techniques, The air traffic
controller and aircraft performance on approach, Ecole Nationale de
lAviation Civile, Toulouse, 1991.