TSA Watch: "Robolander?"
It's baaaaack. "It" is something dubbed "Robolander," variously described as a device or a software package ultimately designed to allow ATC to take control of an aircraft and land it in the event of, ummm, "trouble." Systems like it were widely proposed in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, although it quickly fell out of favor once the reality of the costs and logistics of fitting it to every airliner sunk in. Similarly, the possibility that a "system" could inadvertently take a crew and passengers for an excursion to the nearest airport has meant the idea hasn't really caught on. We can't imagine why. According to published reports, however, at least the concept has been tested by the U.S. government (Department of Homeland Security). Those reports say NASA recently flew a Boeing 757 over a Washington, D.C., mock-up and tried to fly it into the White House. Reportedly, the "Robolander" system prevented the pilot from doing so. AVweb inquired of NASA regarding this report and requested any additional details but was not able to obtain the agency's response by our deadline. While the concept is not a new one -- President Bush was the first to give it any respectability -- whether and how it might be implemented by 2010, as reported, is anyone's guess.