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The traffic collision avoidance system has two versions, TCAS I and TCAS II.

I know for sure that TCAS I has a range of 40 nautical miles, but what is the range for TCAS II?

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Short answer

If a single range should be stated for ACAS II, it would be the reliable range of 14 NM, even if targets can displayed by current TCAS II up to 30/40 NM.

Reliable means here: a track can be established with a probability of at least 90 per cent for aircraft within the surveillance range. The reliable range of 14 NM is achievable with a ground plane antenna a power of 250 W and a Mode S sensitivity of –74 dBm.


Diversity of ranges

There are different range values that can be considered:

  • Overall pulse detection range is 30 NM.
  • Reliable surveillance range is 14 NM.
  • Recommended RA range is 12 NM.
  • Guaranteed range is 4.5 NM.

The range must be limited because it impacts the number of transponder addresses to be stored for a given transponder density as well as the number of interrogations within a volume, hence radio spectrum use and reliability.

ACAS II recommendations by ICAO

ACAS II ICAO recommendations are found in Doc 9863, Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) Manual:

  • Interrogation pulse detection range is 14 NM for Mode A/C and 30 NM for Mode S.
  • The equipment should have the capacity for surveillance of any mix of Mode A/C or Mode S targets up to at least 30 aircraft.
  • Surveillance must be reliable within 14 NM, with an aircraft density of 0.3 aircraft per square NM within 5 NM (and up to 142 aircraft within 30 NM).
  • The equipment should assess as possible collision threats only those targets within a maximum range of 12 NM. No target outside this range should be eligible to generate an RA.
  • As density increases, reliability decreases.
  • If the overall target count ever exceeds the surveillance capacity at any range up to 14 NM, the long-range targets may be dropped.
  • The system reliability is guaranteed within the minimum range of 4.5 NM. This radius is deemed adequate for providing protection for up to 500 kt encounter.

TCAS version 7.1

TCAS II is the sole implementation of ACAS II which fully comply with ACAS II. The reference (paying) documents are: DO-185B (RTCA) and ED-143 (EUROCAE).

From the EASA document ACAS Guide

TCAS II can simultaneously track up to 30 aircraft, within a nominal range of 14 NM for Mode A/C targets and 30 NM for Mode S targets. In implementations that allow for the use of the Mode S extended squitter, the normal surveillance range may be increased beyond the nominal 14 NM. However, this information is not used for collision avoidance purposes.

This is confirmed in FAA document Introduction to TCAS II V7.1

TCAS has a requirement to provide reliable surveillance out to a range of 14 nmi and in traffic densities of up to 0.3 aircraft per square nautical mile. [...] TCAS can simultaneously track up to 30 transponder-equipped aircraft within a nominal range of 30 nmi.

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  • $\begingroup$ The main point is that TCAS range is highly dependent on traffic density and transponder mix (Mode A/C vs. Mode S). I can say based on my experience testing TCAS units in the lab and analyzing flight test data, tracking 30 aircraft within 30 NM for is very reliable. With a density such that there are 30 or less targets, tracking Mode S is reliable out to the 30 - 40 NM range. Mode A/C can be tracked out to 15-20 NM in these conditions. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Jan 15 '17 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ The ICAO numbers are off. 142 a/c within 30 NM is a density of 0.01 a/c per sq NM. It's closer to the FAA numbers where 0.3 a/c per sq NM equates to 185 a/c within 14 NM or 136 a/c within 12 NM. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Jan 15 '17 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ That is true, but the statement in your answer "But this is valid for an aircraft density of 0.3 aircraft per square NM (142 aircraft within 30 NM)." is misleading. What your latest reference describes is 24 a/c within 5 NM (which is 0.3 a/c per sq NM) and 142 within 30 NM (which is 0.05 a/c per sq NM). So they are describing a non-uniform distribution modeled around a major airport. The original statement is poorly made in that it mixes two separate measurements. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Jan 16 '17 at 13:20

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