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In our assessment, FLARM provides a well-proven system that can help a great deal with glider-glider and glider-airplane collision threats that are common in contest flying, in high GA and commercial traffic areas, and at clubs or airports with many gliders and towplanes.  As US Team pilots, several of us used FLARM while flying at contests in Europe. We were impressed by how well the system works and how well suited it is for gliding. In the wake of the series of recent mid-airs in the US, we feel that we should relay our experience with the FLARM technology to the US gliding community because we believe, based on our experiences with the system, that FLARM could have avoided these accidents.

Although the FLARM technology has been in use over the world since 2004, it has not been available in the US because the previous systems did not meet FCC requirements. The PowerFLARM unit that is planned to soon be available in the US resolves this issue.

The PowerFLARM also includes a transponder detector and 1090 ADS-B receiver, making irrelevant the old question, “Should we protect ourselves from other gliders in contests or from GA and commercial power planes?” PowerFLARM does both.  PowerFLARM is not an ADS-B transmitter, for obvious reasons of power, cost, and certification. If you add a Mode S transponder with 1090-ES (also called ADS-B-Out) to a PowerFLARM, for example the Trig TT21, you can have a complete ADS-B in your cockpit nowand a collision avoidance system specifically suited to the very particular situations unique to gliders such as thermalling, gaggles, contests, etc.

We would like to see the PowerFLARM system be adopted as soon as possible in US contest soaring. However, we are not advocating that FLARM should be mandated.  Our vision is bottom-up and voluntary.  Each FLARM unit is more valuable as more pilots use FLARM. Our aim is to get the ball rolling, so that each pilot who chooses to equip with a FLARM knows there are many other pilots doing the same, and through collective action, we can make the system increasingly safer.

What are the alternatives?

  1. Wait for better ADS-B technology?  As we have surveyed the scene, low-cost (FAA certified) UAT ADS-B transceivers suitable for gliders are a very long way off from being commercially available. Furthermore, any traffic-alert and collision-detection unit designed for general aviation will be prone to constant false alarms in gaggles or other common glider flight situations.  The FLARM algorithms minimize such false alarms.  Read more about this here.  Our assessment is that other glider-suitable and gliding-suited collision-detection systems are many years away from being commercially available.

    In addition, adopting PowerFLARM does not take the glider community away from ADS-B, it moves us closer.  PowerFLARM uses the same principle of direct aircraft-to-aircraft position and track communications as the ADS-B concept. As above, PowerFLARM includes a state of the art 1090 ADS-B receiver and collision alert system. 

  2. Doing nothing?  We have all lost too many friends, and suffered too many close calls to put a decision off any further, particularly when the technology is now going to be available to us.  How many more mid-airs, near-misses, and lost friends does it make sense for us, the gliding community, to stand by and watch while awaiting for "something else" to come?  Our opinion is that the time has come to act together to finally bring to the US a technology that has been widely used and saving lives in other countries for years.

Click here to read about what FLARM is.

-- Bill WE, John BB, and Dave YO
send us an email at mailto:flarm@gliderpilot.org 

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