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Sun, Dec 03, 2006

Boeing Patents Airliner Anti-Terrorist System

Autopilot Autolands Aircraft For Incapacitated Crew

A new "uninterruptible" autopilot developed by Boeing and patented in Canada purportedly flies and lands the aircraft in case the crew is incapacitated.

An autopilot that can fly and land an airliner isn't new, but one that activates itself when it senses excessive force on the cockpit door is (the crew may also activate it manually).

Even that feature isn't as controversial as this: once initiated, the system may not be disengaged by anyone aboard the aircraft.

Once engaged, Boeing's system will accept directions from ground-based controllers. The controversy stems from concerns over what might happen should the system malfunction -- or worse, should terrorists gain control of an aircraft from the ground.

A less-controversial system is under development in Europe. Called Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE), the design incorporates microphones and cameras in the cabin allowing pilots to monitor passenger activity. It also includes digital fingerprinting and iris scans for cockpit access, and a function tied to sensors and the flight controls preventing a terrorist from flying an aircraft into a building.

Several companies are working together on SAFEE. Airbus has already tested the threat detection element of the system. Pilots may easily monitor activity in the cabin with sensitive microphones and video cameras. The company plans a full simulation in January of 2008.

European electronics giant Thales is developing the anti-collision element of the system and plans to test it next month.

Dutch firm NLR will develop biometric sensors for fingerprinting and iris scanning. Its system will be tested next August.

FMI: www.boeing.com, www.thales.com, www.airbus.com

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