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In 2006, a 737 operating as Gol Transportes Aéreos Flight 1907 crashed following a collision with a Legacy 600 business jet; the Legacy's transponder proved to have been in standby mode1 at the time of the collision (due either to a transponder malfunction or to the crew having inadvertently switched it into standby mode), which, obviously, prevented the 737's TCAS from seeing the Legacy and sounding an alarm.

However, setting the Legacy's transponder to standby mode also, apparently, deactivated its own TCAS:

Considering, according to declarations, that the N600XL pilots did not perceive that the transponder had stopped transmitting and that, as a result, the TCAS was inoperative... [CENIPA report, page 83.]

This is also, apparently, the result should the transponder fail outright:

In case there is a Transponder failure, the operation mode and code selected are replaced by dashes in the RMU. An orange message “TCAS FAIL” will appear on both Primary Flight Displays (PFD) precisely in front of the visual field of view of both pilots, as shown by the pictures bellow [sic]. [CENIPA report, page 92.]

I'm not seeing the rationale for this; even if the aircraft's transponder fails or is switched off, there doesn't seem to be any inherent reason why this should require also deactivating the TCAS. Even if the transponder can't, or won't, transmit, the TCAS should still be able to pick up signals from other aircraft's transponders, allowing it to continue to function, albeit in a receive-only mode.

So why does the Legacy 600's TCAS cease to function if the transponder is standing by or inoperative?


1: In standby mode, the transponder does not respond to any interrogation signals, either from the ground or from other aircraft.

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    $\begingroup$ Anyone know why this has been voted down to -3? This seems like an utterly reasonable question to me. $\endgroup$ – Terran Swett Jun 8 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ @TannerSwett In my opinion the question could be greatly improved by making it far more concise and not making assumptions. Essentially the question asks why TCAS cannot operate without a Mode S transmitter. A single sentence could tie this into the accident. The opinion, a paragraph about "stupid design" could be omitted completely. As is, the question feels much more like a rant than a true technical query. $\endgroup$ – user71659 Jun 8 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ should still be able to pick up signals from other aircraft's transponders But TCAS determines the locations of other aircraft by sending its own interrigations after it hears the mode S address. It can't calculate range to a target just from hearing the other aircraft's mode S transmission. Also, RA's are calculated depending on cooperation between both aircraft. If one is silent then the system won't work. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jun 9 at 1:18
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At least under FAA regulations the TCAS system goes into standby (by design) if the transponder fails

A Mode S transponder is required to be installed and operational for TCAS II to be operational. If the Mode S transponder fails, the TCAS Performance Monitor will detect this failure and automatically place TCAS into Standby. The Mode S transponder performs the normal functions to support the ground-based ATC system and can work with either an ATCRBS or a Mode S ground sensor. The Mode S transponder is also used to provide air-to-air data exchange between TCAS-equipped aircraft so that coordinated, complementary RAs can be issued when required.

TCAS II systems get their altitude information from the transponder, which is a vital parameter to the system working.

enter image description here

(source)

All modes also require a functioning Mode S transponder

  • Stand-by: Power is applied to the TCAS Processor and the Mode S transponder, but TCAS does not issue any interrogations and the transponder will reply to only discrete interrogations. The transponder still transmits squitters. Note: If the aircraft is on the ground and transmitting extended squitters, it is not required to transmit short (acquisition) squitters.

  • Transponder: The Mode S transponder is fully operational and will reply to all appropriate ground and TCAS interrogations. TCAS remains in Stand-by.

  • TA Only: The Mode S transponder is fully operational. TCAS will operate normally and issue the appropriate interrogations and perform all tracking functions However, TCAS will only issue TAs; RAs will be inhibited.

  • Automatic or TA/RA: The Mode S transponder is fully operational. TCAS will operate normally and issue the appropriate interrogations and perform all tracking functions. TCAS will issue TAs and RAs when appropriate.

Strictly speaking all of this is only applicable to TCAS II systems but based on the noted case and my reading of the accident report it appears TCAS II was the system in use in this case.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why does the TCAS get its altitude information from the transponder? Why can't it get it directly from the altimeter? $\endgroup$ – Sean Jun 8 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Sean if you dig into the document linked above it sounds like TCAS I did just that, they dont really offer an explanation as to why they changed for TCAS II but I would assume its to keep some kind of uniformity between ground and air reporting (might be a good topic for another question, Im happy to do more research) $\endgroup$ – Dave Jun 8 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ Not seeing where the document says that; could you point out where it does? $\endgroup$ – Sean Jun 8 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Sean I took a second quick look and cant find the exact section. I remember coming across it when researching this last night that some of the earlier systems were tied directly into the altimeters but for TCAS II the transponder became a requirement. $\endgroup$ – Dave Jun 8 at 22:53

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