Panic buttons could be part of future cockpits

 - May 29, 2008, 7:22 AM

Banks have them, and so do many convenience stores and passenger cars. And now it seems that many aircraft will also have “panic buttons” on board, if Aeronautical Radio Inc. (Arinc) has its way. In November the company displayed its security messenger system at an ATC convention in Washington.

Designed for installation in an inaccessible location in the aircraft, the three-pound, nine-inch-long unit, contains a VHF transmitter, GPS receiver and an Acars management unit which, when activated via “panic buttons” on the flight deck and passenger compartment, would transmit security alert messages twice a minute over the VHF Acars frequencies. The tamper-proof, battery-powered device operates independently of aircraft power for up to 15 hr, making it also an autonomous ground-security alerting system when interfaced with fire, intrusion and other sensors.

Conceived some two years ago as a low-cost Acars system for general aviation, and displayed by Arinc at last year’s NBAA Convention in New Orleans, the unit’s security application became immediately apparent to Arinc engineers after September 11. Flight tests conducted early last month demonstrated the system’s alerting capabilities to FAA observers, when messages were received in a downtown Washington office from a light aircraft flying over Maryland.

Arinc describes the initial Acars package as its Phase I system, with availability expected early next year. A more advanced Phase 2 version, designed to operate with the VHF datalink Mode 2 (VDL-2) and expected to be available next summer, offers a wider range of capabilities, including transmission of FDR, CVR and other operational data; wireless communications for pilots, air marshals and flight attendants; and digital audio and video data. Reportedly, the latter was proposed by FAA officials to use biometric face-recognition technology (see AIN, November, page 8). An Arinc representative suggested to AIN that the independent nature of the Security Messenger, coupled with its relatively urgent need, should speed the STC process. Estimated costs of the two units were not yet available.

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