Why Couldn't this System be Used to Deter Aircraft Hijackings/Terrorism?

When I was driving to work today, I started thing about modern commercial aircraft. Most of them have “autoland” capability via a Category III Instrument Landing System. This is usually used in very bad whether or just to maintain currency for the system itself.

Aircraft also have very sophisticated GPS with airport information loaded. The GPS has a function that instantly calculates routes to nearby airports.

Here is what I was thinking. In the event of a hijacking or other onboard terror, the crew could have a special keypad, buttons, or switches that set the GPS to calculate the route to the nearest Class III ILS approach airport, set the autopilot to go there while descending, arrive at the ILS waypoint and turn on the autoland capability. Other things it would do would be to turning the transponder to "7500, “Hijack” to signal to air traffic control. This would clear the air and the runways for the plane’s arrival.

Here is the key part. It cannot be turned off. The incentive for the hijackers is completely gone. Once the feature is activated, there is nothing they can do. They are going to arrive safely and quickly at a large airport with no way to escape.

The interface to this system would need to be carefully designed so that it is almost impossible to activate accidentally, yet quick enough so that it only takes a few seconds to arm it. I am thinking of an arming switch combined with a keypad and “Enter” button.

Do you see any problems with this system?

Yeah; it can’t be turned off!

Seriously, if there was a malfunction on approach, or you had to avoid another aircraft, or any one of a thousand details the auto-pilot cannot be programmed to anticipate, the passengers die needlessly. I don’t think it is a good idea.

Well, it isn’t something that would be used very often. The fact that it exists at all should be a deterrent because hijacking would be pointless. ATC is notified via the transponder of a hijacking and they could easily figure out where the plane is heading. It is their job to clear the runways and airspace. They train for that tyep of thing.

If the possibility of dying isn’t enough of a deterrent, I can’t see how the possibility of getting caught would even slow them down. Plus, once they find out the plane isn’t going where they want it to, they start breaking things until something final happens.

But hijackers have always something that involves making the plane go to another location. Old school hijackers just went to Cuba. The 9/11 hijackers wanted targets. The feature wouldn’t be secret, quite to the contrary.

Plilots already use their plane’s autoland capabilities from time to time. They have to use it to keep it certified current. From what I understand, it is very safe. Sometimes safer than the pilot flying manually if the weather is very bad.

In any case, a plane that has this thing turned on is in grave danger anyway. I would think virtually guaranteeing a safe landing would be a bonus.

The hijackers would just kill all the passengers and crew and then duke it out with the authorities on the ground.

Sturdy cockpit doors are a much more effective solution anyway.

That will surely stop this rash of hijackings we’re in.

I think its a great idea.

If the hijackers know that not only will they not be able to pilot the plane to Cuba or the Sears Tower, but that they will also be arrested or killed (without achieving their sinister goals) then they no longer have any incentive to hijack.

As for the risk of passengers being killed, in the extreme case of being on board a hijacked plane you are quite likely to be killed anyway. Along with people in whatever building is the target. At least with this system there is a very good chance of the plane landing safely.

So what happens when the system malfunctions and turns itself on when you don’t want it to?

Heh heh. My thoughts exactly.

To tell you the truth, i think that an onboard hijacking is now less likely than it has ever been in the history of air travel. Any would-be hijacker nowdays must know that, after the example set on 9/11, any attempt to hijack a plane the old-fashioned way (knives, guns, bomb, etc.) is simply going to result in the passengers going ballistic, overrunning the hijackers, and crashing the plane if necessary.

Back in the good old days of hijackings, passengers had an incentive to obey the hijackers because they thought that doing so might result in them getting out alive. But 9/11 changed the whole equation, and anyone hijacked now will likely assume the worst, and figure that there’s no downside to fighting back because they’re going to die anyway.

To the extent that i think about this stuff at all—which is not very much—i’m far less concerned about hijackings than i ever have been before. A bomb smuggled on to the plane with the intention of blowing it up? Sure, that’s a possibility. But an old-fashioned hijacking, with guns and stuff? Virtually unimaginable since 9/11, IMO.

      • Unless, that is, they just detonate the bomb anyway. Are you assuming that they WANT to land safely?..

  • Why not just give all the crew firearms training and weapons, and let them shoot anyone who attempts to hijack the plane? With just one 9mm hole in the head, the incentive for the hijackers is completely gone. I’d be willing to bet that after just a couple of these “incentive removals”, hijacking Western flights would suddenly become way less popular. (-hey, it worked for Israel…).

There is a much simpler, cheaper and more effective method.

Issue weapons to every passenger as they get on the plane. Collect them as they get off.

And make sure that people can drink at home, drink at the airport, and drink on the plane!

It’s the American Way!

They do?

Define “most”, please - is that 95% or 65%?

So they just kill everyone on board in a horrible manner.

Hmm… OK, you can’t turn it off…

If you take a fire-ax to the instrument panel and various bits would you be able to destroy the anti-hijack box sufficiently to “turn it off”, yet stil lhave an airplane you’re capable of flying?

Could a route be chosen that, when the anti-hijack box is activated, it takes the jet over the heart of a large city as a result of it’s “automatic calculations”, at which point the hijackers blow up the plane, killing not only all the passengers but gaining maximum ground damage at the same time?

I am an aviation enthusiast like you. Both Boeing and Airbus build new jets with autoland capability. I am not sure what percentage of the total fleet that makes up right now.

I am getting confused by the fact that people keep bringing up rebuttals like this. Hijackers hijack airplanes because they need something strategically from the fact that it is an aircraft and can be flown wherever the hijacker wants. It takes a lot of time and work to hijack an aircraft. If all the terrorist/hijacker wants is a captive audience then there are much better places for that.

Anyway, the point is deterrence. Hijackers have no incentive to hijack an aircraft if it is guaranteed to fail. If the system were built, it would likely never be used. You would want it to be published as much as possible.

Come on now. You are just exchanging more likely scenarios for absurd ones. Where is the fire ax? Destroying the whole avionics system that controls it would take a lot of work and know-how. This system isn’t a radio in a 1985 pickup truck. Also, a jet exploding over a major city wouldn’t do much damage. An airliner plowed into a NYC neighborhood right after 9/11. How much do you hear about that anymore. One exploding at altitude would do even less damage.

I like the idea. But instead of having it “not be able” to be turned off, what if it was only able to be turned off remotely?
And not only turned “on” by the pilots, but also able to be turned on remotely.

So, you are volunteering to be the pilot on this … right?

In the cockpit. Standard equipment.
No, I’m not kidding.

Moved to GD for further discussion.

General Questions Moderator