Sunday, March 29, 2015

Commercial airline planes need a "fly safe mode"

In the wake of this tragedy, new ideas are needed on how to prevent preventable plane accidents.

All modern planes can fly themselves in normal operating conditions.  That shouldn't shock anyone, if you are unaware how much advanced control systems exist, the computer cores are a significant part of the avionics. They can be commanded to land themselves.  All modern airlines have GPS and the best satellite reception for the best position estimates. 

Instead of ignoring this reality, it should be used as a last resort.

If the air traffic control thinks the pilots are not able to fly the plane, why not allow them to send a remote control override that is ONLY capable of commanding the plane to fly to the nearest airport and circle the field? It could override commands to change course until the crew reconnects with the air traffic control and the air traffic control unlocks the plane controls. After a designated time window, or when the fuel reaches critical levels, then the plane can make the landing.

If the plane is full of fuel, there is no rush to land it as they can circle for hours. That is ample time for an intercept jet to see whats going on in the cockpit. That gives lots of time to assess the situation if there is no need to panic.  To unlock the controls, the air traffic control has to be satisfied that the plane is in good hands and then control is given back. 

There is no rush to land if there is no urgent need to land.

As a final last resort, the plane can land itself.  I would rather trust the automation than a sick pilot.  I would rather use the computer control than trust a suspect crew.