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In air traffic management, the aircraft separation requirement is defined by a minimum horizontal distance and a minimum vertical distance that the aircraft have to maintain. Since this requirement defines a cylinder around each aircraft rather than a sphere, the three-dimensional Euclidean distance does not provide an appropriate basis for the definition of time of closest approach. For instance, conflicting aircraft are not necessarily in loss of separation at the time of closest three-dimensional Euclidean distance. This paper proposes a definition of time of closest approach that characterizes conflicts in a three-dimensional airspace. The proposed time is defined as the time that minimizes a distance metric called cylindrical norm. An algorithm that computes the time of closest approach between two aircraft is provided and the formal verification of its main properties is reported.
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