Pilot override system aims to prevent 9/11-style attacks

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Flight International online news 12:00GMT: Honeywell is in talks with Airbus and Boeing about fitting a device aimed at preventing 9/11-style hijack.

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The device is a recovery system that uses the automatic flight control system in fly-by-wire airliners to override pilots who set a course that would enter restricted airspace or intentionally collide with buildings.

Honeywell’s marketing strategy for the “automatic” or “assisted” recovery system is focused on gaining acceptance with the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787, with the former seen as the more natural candidate given Boeing’s philosophical objections to any system that overrides the pilot’s control of the aircraft.

A retrofit option for existing fly-by-wire airliners is deemed unlikely because of the high costs of development and certification.

Flight tests of the system were conducted in April this year with a United Airlines A319 in airspace near Monterrey, California. Honeywell says the tests demonstrated that the automatic flight controls could be reprogrammed to assume control of the airliner, rather than simply give the pilot a warning. The system also has been tested in flight aboard Honeywell’s Beech King Air testbed.

The automatic recovery system is essentially an upgrade to Honeywell’s enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS), which uses a worldwide terrain database to alert pilots to obstacles such as mountains. Automatic recovery would require adding “virtual keep-out areas”, such as restricted airspace above the White House, into flight computers equipped with the EGPWS terrain database.

The system would give the pilot a warning as the aircraft enters a buffer zone around restricted airspace or certain prominent buildings. If the pilot fails to respond to the warning, the flight controls would override the pilot’s commands and steer the aircraft out of the danger zone.

STEPHEN TRIMBLE/NEW YORK