Occasionally, a flight will encounter bad enough weather that the crew will become disoriented. While tools like a terrain radar, ILS, and GPWS/TAWS do help the pilots regain orientation, they're not universal; some aircraft aren't equipped with terrain radar, ILS only works on approach to runways supporting ILS, and GPWS is pretty coarse and primarily aural, not visual (beyond a flashing warning sign) on most aircraft. This means that there's still a risk of overshooting or undershooting a runway, or even controlled flight into terrain.

Some higher-end private aircraft have started incorporating decked-out glass cockpits which, among others, can include synthetic vision systems -- these can show terrain, glide slopes, and other traditionally VFR elements which can otherwise be invisible during night flying or in poor weather.

I haven't seen high adoption of these kinds of systems even in brand-new airlines, though; is there a technical reason why these aren't being included (or even mandated) above a certain type rating? Is it purely pragmatism while the system becomes more ironed out? Or are the hurdles before adoption purely bureaucratic at this point?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Is money a non-bureaucratic hurdle? Even the cheapest glass-cockpit can run $15,000. iPads and portables may have synth-vision, but are not certified. $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Mar 11, 2019 at 21:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, there are no bureaucratic hurdles. The bureaucracy is not there just for sake of it, it is there to make sure the risk analysis was properly done and all problematic cases are handled. After all, synthetic vision is only as good as the data it has and now your life depends on it. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Mar 11, 2019 at 21:45
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    $\begingroup$ The question makes flawed assumptions about SVS. EGPWS is not "primarily aural", all EGPWS systems have a terrain display, and new aircraft have a profile view. SVS does not involve any new sensors, all you're seeing is the existing EGPWS terrain display and glideslope being rendered in 3D. The question is whether this eye candy really enhances safety, especially in IFR operations, or just there to sell big bucks avionics suites. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Mar 12, 2019 at 0:06

1 Answer 1


It's not bureaucracy in the sense of pointless red tape, it's the demands of certification for brand new systems on Transport Category airplanes. The hoops that have to be jumped through are epic. Engineering standards, testing this, testing that, covering every conceivable possibility (or trying to).

You always see new innovations in GA, then Corporate, then Transport, because that's the certification difficulty ladder imposed by the demands of having to achieve near perfect safety with a better than one in a billion risk of a catastrophic crash due to a component failure. (Airliners are, by a far, far margin, the safest way to get form A to B aside from an ox cart - there hasn't been a crash of a heavy in the US in, what, almost 20 years now?)

  • $\begingroup$ Maybe not a passenger heavy, but the recent Atlas crash is a common passenger type. I'd say the streak is broken. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Mar 12, 2019 at 4:04
  • $\begingroup$ Well yeah but I'm just referring to pax heavies in the US. There was a 737 crash in the Canadian arctic about 7 years ago due to some unbelievable incompetence by the Capt and a not sufficiently assertive FO, but that's the only crash of a passenger heavy in North America since 2002. Quite a feat. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Mar 12, 2019 at 4:29

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