Can flight control of a commercial aircraft be taken over from the ground?
Question asked by Brad.
Science fiction, movies and modern technology of computers, smart phones and other communication devices, would make one think that this certainly would be possible. And yes, technology does exist to do that. However, no commercial aircraft have technology installed with capability to be controlled remotely. Remote control from the ground is used for satellites and spacecraft, as well as for military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). UAV’s are primarily used by United States Air Force (USAF) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Unfortunately the safety record of UAV’s is not the best and would not be acceptable in Civil Aviation.
There is a story going around, that flight crews on flight decks of future airplanes will consist of one pilot only and a dog. The pilot’s job will be to feed the dog and the dog’s job will be to bite the pilot if he / she touches anything. The fact is that airplanes still need direct human input, particularly if something does not go as planned, or if there is an emergency. Even with the largest and most modern airplanes today, at times pilots still must fly the airplane by the seat of their pants. That would not be possible to do by remote control.
There is also the human perception factor. Some say that with today’s technology we no longer need the pilots in the flight deck of airplanes. After-all many accidents are blamed on pilot error. However, would you get on an airplane knowing that there is no pilot on board and nobody to save the day if there is an emergency ?
If an airplane was being controlled from the ground, what would happen if the control signals were jammed, or intercepted by an unauthorized party ? The result could be catastrophic. At this point in time, fairly sophisticated technology exists for radio controlled model aircraft. However, what future technologies may bring to commercial aviation in the next fifty years, is anybody’s guess. We already have automated trains with no engineers on board. And passengers ride in them.
A bit more about Captain Dan:
Captain Dan Baz enrolled in Flight School at the age of 16.
He has completed studies in Aircraft Engineering and Master of Business Administration. He has been at the controls of many different types of aircraft, from single engine Cessnas to large intercontinental jets on global routes.
Over the last four decades he has flown thousands of hours up in the blue sky.
Have a question for the Captain ? Send it to Captain Dan Baz firstname.lastname@example.org Every week a question from the readers will be selected and answer posted in this column.