The Traffic Alert and Col-
lision Avoidance System
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) initiated its current aircraft collision-avoidance program, known as the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), in 1981, when newly appointed FAA Administrator J. Lynn Helms laid out its specifications. Research and development efforts shifted from a partially ground-based collision avoidance system to a fully airborne system. Aircraft would detect and respond to signals from equipment operating on other aircraft, a system that would be independent of ground equipment. Helms was convinced the new system would solve the major problems that had plagued its predecessor, Beacon Collision Avoidance System (BCAS), which had been in development for at least five years.
Helms came to the FAA with what was in his view a broad mandate from the Reagan administration to renew U.S. leadership in civil aviation. The eventual product of that mandate was the National Airspace System (NAS) plan. 1 The first task in the development of the NAS plan was to determine the characteristics of the collision-avoidance system, as the BCAS program would have required a major support system of ground-based computers and towers. An airborne system considerably reduced those requirements in the NAS plan. The decision to remove the operation of collision-avoidance systems from direct FAA control initially generated some opposition within the FAA, as did Helms's insistence that the system be designed and built in the private sector, subject to the FAA's requirements and specifications.
Since at least 1957 Congress has made clear that the executive branch must solve the problem of midair collisions. The 1958 statute that created the FAA was prompted by a collision between craft of two major air carriers over the Grand Canyon. For many years thereafter the air traffic control sys