Avionics Update: Honeywell studies automated cockpit to prevent crashes

 - August 11, 2008, 9:14 AM

Honeywell is testing a new type of automated cockpit concept that can take control of airplanes to keep them from flying into the ground or buildings. Called assisted recovery, the system uses the enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) and autopilot to steer an airplane away from terrain or obstacles if the pilot has not attempted to do so within five seconds of an EGPWS warning. On fly-by-wire aircraft the system could be further developed to override the input of a pilot who unknowingly flies toward a mountain–or, just as serious, a hijacker intent on crashing into buildings.

The idea has been on the back burner at Honeywell for some time, but it’s getting extra attention in the aftermath of 9/11. Honeywell has tested the assisted recovery system in its King Air from Paine Field in Everett, Wash., and is in discussions with Airbus and Boeing about bringing it to airliners. Pilot groups so far have been skeptical, saying they oppose any flight-control system that cannot be overridden by the crew. In response, the avionics manufacturer said it would be possible to provide pilots with special passwords or other means to regain control from the flight computers. A Honeywell spokesman said the company sees a potentially large market for assisted recovery in business aviation as a way of preventing CFIT crashes, as well as accidental excursions into prohibited airspace, such as temporary flight restrictions (TFR) around nuclear powerplants and other sensitive sites.