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Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed new modifications for technology that helps pilots of small aircraft avoid midair collisions. The modified tools significantly improved pilot response times in making decisions to avert crashes. At issue are "cockpit displays of traffic information" (CDTIs). These are GPS displays used by private pilots to track other aircraft in their vicinity. However, pilots often focus on the closest aircraft on the display — a habit that can pose a significant hazard.

A modified screen display helps pilots identify which plane poses the greatest risk to their flight path. (Carl Pankok)

If the pilot of Plane A sees two planes on the CDTI, he's more likely to focus on the closest aircraft (Plane B). But if the more distant plane (Plane C) is moving at high speed, it could cross his path before Plane B does. Not paying enough attention to Plane C increases risk of a midair collision.

Researchers modified the CDTI so that the plane that would cross a pilot's path first either began blinking or was colored yellow. The researchers tested the modified CDTI in a flight simulator with a panel of licensed recreational pilots. The research team compared the pilots' response times and decision-making accuracy when using the modified and unmodified displays. Their percentage of correct decisions — minimizing risk — jumped from 88 percent to 96 percent.

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