Thales dismisses idea as "feasible" but "inadvisable"

European avionics leader Thales has come down firmly against the concept of controlling aircraft from the ground in the event of a hijacking, calling it "feasible" but "inadvisable".

The notion has gained ground in the wake of 11 September's US terror attacks, but Thales - which is arguably the best-placed European firm to work on the suggestion - is not enthusiastic.

Senior vice president of aerospace Francois Lureau suggests passengers would be reluctant to fly on aircraft if they knew they could be controlled from the ground.

"I feel that it is totally feasible, but there is a question whether it is advisable or acceptable. I do not think customers would easily accept that situation," he says. "I think introducing those systems might add some additional vulnerabilities because if you are giving orders from the ground then it is possible for someone else from the ground to give orders."

Lureau says secure communications or frequency hopping might mitigate the risks, but concludes: "We don't see it as a solution. Technically it is possible, but when you look at the benefits and issues then the case is not convincing."

Thales is offering its existing on-board camera system to address a Boeing request to industry for ways of monitoring the passenger cabin from the cockpit. It is also supporting a software-based solution to the issue of preventing transponders being switched off by hijackers.

But most of its response to the new emphasis on security comes from its information technology and services (ITS) division which believes, for example, that in "18 to 24 months" it will have a viable facial recognition system to help detect known suspects trying to board aircraft.

Meanwhile, it is promoting its current secure documentation solutions, although stressing that better intelligence is crucial to improving safety.

Executive vice president of ITS John Hughes says: "Document- ation is the business area of interest for airlines - better verification of who is travelling. And, hopefully, as the intelligence improves then face recognition technology will help match someone's identity to a known terrorist."

Source: Flight International