Magazine article Newsweek International

Aerospace: A Safer Airplane?

Magazine article Newsweek International

Aerospace: A Safer Airplane?

Article excerpt

Byline: Silvia Spring

George W. Bush might have one of his post-9/11 wishes granted. Shortly after the 2001 attacks, the U.S. president said he'd like to see a plane that could be controlled from the ground in the event of a hijacking. In the meantime, a consortium including Airbus, BAE, Sagem Defense Securite and the European Commission, drawing on aviation expertise from 12 countries, have built a control system for a plane that can steer itself away from tall buildings, detect onboard explosives and identify suspicious behavior. The plane, which has been undergoing simulator tests for several weeks, is a product of the Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project, a four-year, [euro]35.8 million venture--of which [euro]19.4 million has come from the European Union--to develop a secure plane by 2008.

The project is already under attack from some security experts, who say that even if the plane hits runways by 2012 on schedule, it's unlikely to have much of an impact on security. The first problem is that many of the technologies being used in the plane are not particularly reliable. Critics say the automated collision avoidance systems that would potentially take over for incapacitated pilots are not up to the complex task of flying a plane, let alone landing one. (SAFEE officials disagree, though they admit that landings are out of reach.) The plane will also use video and audio sensors to flag irregular activity inside the cabin. …

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