Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics
Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA, Inc.) is a United States volunteer organization that develops technical guidance for use by government regulatory authorities and by industry. It was founded in 1935, and was re-incorporated in 1991 as a private not-for-profit corporation. It has over 200 committees and overall acts as an advisory body to the FAA. In 1948 Special Committee 31 recommended that a common air traffic control system be developed for all aircraft flown in the United States.
Requirements for membership include a fee that is based on information in the application for membership, and an interest in aviation. RTCA is sponsored as a Federal Advisory Committee by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Guidance documents are developed and drafted by Special Committee (SC) and are based on a consensus developed within the SC charged with responsibility for the given document. Despite the loosely defined requirements of membership in RTCA, the guidance documents are based on expert technical opinion.
RTCA's objectives include but are not limited to:
- ensuring the safety and reliability of airborne systems;
- developing minimum operational performance requirements for document-specific systems;
- developing guidelines for use by a regulatory authority, the given authority determines appropriate;
- providing administrative and logistics resources that enable teamwork among the worldwide aviation community (e.g., International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Telecommunication Union and others).
Although RTCA is sponsored by the FAA, RTCA is not an agency of the United States government. Hence the documents it publishes are treated as guidelines, not as requirements.
Special Committee 31
Special Committee 31 was formed by members of the RTCA to predict the future needs of the United States' air traffic control system. This report recommended a common air traffic control system be developed that would serve the needs of both military and civilian aircraft.  They released a final report of their recommendations on May 12, 1948; this report made several requirements of future air traffic control systems (as listed in ):
- The new system must permit aircraft to be flown safely.
- It must improve the flow of air traffic.
- Any airborne equipment must be both simple and lightweight.
- Any new system must impose a minimum burden on the pilot or ground personnel.
- The installed equipment must require a minimum of funding from taxpayers, airlines, or private pilots.
To meet these requirements the report recommended installation of airport surveillance radar and installation of VHF omnidirectional range (VOR)/distance measuring equipment (DME) on aircraft. In addition the report made several other recommendations such as installing transponders to aircraft to provide altitude and identification information to ground-based radar and to install precision approach radar to improve the capability of aircraft to land in poor weather conditions.
In 1948 the Air Navigation Development Board (ANDB) was formed to oversee the implementation of the ATC system described in SC-31. There were immediate problems such as budgetary restraints (from the ongoing war) and a concurrent effort by the military to pursue an incompatible system (Tactical Air Navigation; TACAN). In general though, the SC-31 was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the next-generation air traffic system.
- Nolan, M.S. (1999). Fundamentals of air traffic control. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company: Pacific Grove, CA.
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RTCA SC-167; EUROCAE WG-12. Domain, Aviation. Abbreviation. DO-178B; ED-12B. DO-178B,