Conflict Detection Tools

Conflict Detection Tools

42ND ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 17-21 March 2003

WP No. 87

Conflict Detection Tools

Presented by SC1


1.1  At the conclusion of last year’s Annual Conference SC1 had included an item on this year’s Work Programme on Conflict Resolution Systems. At subsequent SC1 meetings it was questioned whether the title of the Working Paper, namely Conflict Resolution Systems was appropriate. The term Conflict Resolution Systems refers to fully automated systems capable of not only detecting, but also resolving conflicts. Such Conflict Resolution Systems would, in effect, be replacing human Air Traffic Controllers with a fully automated system. These systems are not considered by SC1 to be due for introduction in ATM systems in the foreseeable future.

1.2  SC1 has therefore decided it would be more appropriate to re-title the paper as ‘Conflict Detection Tools’.

1.3  This paper deals with Conflict Detection Tools, some of which are in use already but many more of which are under development. The paper also discusses potential implications on IFATCA policy.


2.1  Consideration needs to be given as to the scope of Conflict Detection Tools. At present there is no IFATCA definition available for ‘Conflict Detection Tools’. Whilst there is no definition for Conflict Detection Tools, there is a general understanding as to the functionality being considered.

2.2  Conflict detection tools can be considered to be controller tools that use predicted trajectories to identify conflicts and other significant interactions between aircraft to provide system generated warnings to controllers.

2.3  Some Conflict Detection Tools are already operational, although mostly as safety net systems such as Short Term Conflict Alert or as conflict probes such as those used by some Oceanic control units. Forms of medium term conflict detection, probing and/or alerting have been used at a few units including Maastricht UAC for some years, with some automated systems such as the FAA’s URET system being deployed in the recent past.

2.4  The use to which Conflict Detection Tools are put will be dependent on the accuracy of the available trajectory information. Many sources of aircraft trajectory information can be used to predict potential conflicts including flight data processing data, radar data processing data, ground modelling of trajectories source and/or downlinked trajectory data from aircraft.

2.5  Conflict Detection Tools will increasingly be paired with further tools to help controllers design solutions to conflicts. Such tools will enable controllers to analyse conflicts between aircraft trajectories and resolve those conflicts through planning as well as through tactical control.

2.6  Conflict Detection Tools fall into three broad classifications. For the purposes of this paper they are referred to as Class 1, 2 and 3 systems:

  • Class 3 systems simply detect a potential conflict and point out the aircraft involved to the controller, leaving the controller to interpret, prioritise and resolve the conflict.
  • Class 2 systems detect and apply some degree of interpretation and presentation when informing the controller of the conflict.
  • Class 1 systems automatically detect, prioritise, interpret, present and could potentially even advise the controller on resolution options or at least identifiable problems affecting potential conflict resolution solutions.

2.7  In summary, Conflict Detection Tools can enable a reduction in a controller’s Situational Awareness, whilst still enabling the controller to safely and efficiently handle the traffic. This is due to the fact that Conflict Detection Tools automate some of the tasks currently undertaken manually by the controller, e.g. the Detection, Interpretation, Prioritisation and Presentation of potential conflicts.

2.8  The introduction of Conflict Detection Tools will result in a change of the controller’s role from being active, by recognising potential conflicts and providing solutions, to a passive role in monitoring the system.

2.9  The more advanced the system the greater the potential for controllers becoming reliant on these tools for conflict detection. ATM systems employing class 1 systems would probably assume the evolution of the controllers role into that of being a task driven problem solver. The maintenance of a controller’s “picture” becomes increasingly redundant, the controller’s monitoring task would be increasingly impractical and the controller’s role in mitigating gross system failures would become impossible during peak traffic levels.

2.10  Conflict Detection Tools need to be fail-safe, error tolerant and provide accurate and incorruptible data. These systems must be designed to meet a high level of safety requirement.

2.11  Conflict Detection Tools must assist and support ATCO’s in the execution of their duties. The controller needs to remain the key element of the ATC system. Conflict Detection Tools should be developed to assist the controllers in their primary tasks of maintaining a safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic. Overall controller workload should not be increased as a result of Conflict Detection Tools being introduced.

2.12  Conflict Detection Tools must provide an intuitive interface enabling quick access to information for controllers.

2.13  The question of de-skilling of ATC personnel must be considered when effectively delegating conflict alert to automated systems. Controllers should still be taught, and maintain, the ability to readily identify and resolve potential conflicts by manual means. Reliance upon automated Conflict Detection Tools shall be avoided.

2.14  Training needs to be undertaken to ensure that controllers are familiar with the functions of Conflict Detection Tools. Controllers need to be trained about both the capabilities and the limitations of the tools that will be introduced for conflict detection.


3.1  The introduction of Conflict Detection Tools will require the development of policy to ensure that the tools are introduced in a manner that will be beneficial to controllers and the ATM system as a whole.

3.2  IFATCA needs to participate in ongoing discussions about the use of Conflict Detection Tools and to formulate policy regarding the use of such tools.


It is recommended that:

4.1  SC1 Produce a definition of ‘Conflict Detection Tools’ as part of next year’s Work Programme.

4.2  SC1 Produce a definition of ‘Controller Tools’ as part of next year’s Work Programme.

4.3  This paper is accepted as information material.

Last Update: September 29, 2020  

March 22, 2020   412   Jean-Francois Lepage    2003    

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