Letters to the Editor

Computers could prevent an intentional jet crash

After 9/11 and again after the Malaysian Airlines 777 disappeared over the Indian Ocean, I asked why it was even possible for a flight crew to turn off the radar transponder, which makes it easy for ground radars to track aircraft. Now, following the apparently intentional crash of the Airbus in southern France, it’s been suggested that air traffic control should be able to stop such an occurrence. But I’m wondering why it’s not been made impossible for a pilot to perform such a disastrous maneuver in the first place.

Consider: Today’s airliners practically fly themselves. There’s plenty of computing power aboard, the radar altimeter keeps track of terrain,the route has been programmed in, and the autopilot is in control of all functions unless switched off. The computer already performs a “stick shaker” notice to the pilot if a stall is imminent. Why can’t the computer simply disallow an intentional plunge to earth?

Where is HAL (the hypervigilant computer from “2001: A Space Odyssey”) when we need him? “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t let you do that.”

Mark Foutch