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So it seems that we have three basic issues (and possibly more but not as prevalent):

  1. Pilots can crash planes. Someone can just be suicidal, be part of an extremist/terrorist group, can have a vendetta against someone or just thinks might as well take more down with me.

  2. Passengers that get into the cockpits. I know that the cockpits are locked and pilots are armed but on a lot of flights there is opportunity.

  3. Using technology to override aircraft autopilot.

So what is the long-term plan to keep these things from happening from a technology point of view? Is there anything in the makes that will help solve these issues? I foresee some sort of technology that requires some sort of dual sequenced unlocking to allow a pilot to make a certain % deviation from flight plan.

Note: There have been a lot of answers here that basically say "nothing is being done" and offer up reasons why. To use the recent incident of a pilot dropping a plane into a mountain as an example, my main question surrounding that is, is there a technology that would see that the pilot was well off course? Is there technology that would see that the plane had a high risk of crashing? Is there technology that would prewarn flight control (even if it were a few minutes)? Is there technology that flight control could override plane and right the ship that is going into the mountain?

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    $\begingroup$ And what if a pilot has a medical emergency and they need to divert? There is no technical solution to having a pilot who has the ability to deal with emergencies while preventing them from crashing the plane. $\endgroup$ – cpast Mar 28 '15 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ Pilots crashing planes intentionally is so ridiculously rare there is no need to create measures against that. And it would be a completely reactive, not preventive, measure: just like the TSA operates (oh, that one time they tried to blow up the plane using liquids, let's ban liquids, although there are virtually endless other possibilities on how it could be blown up, but we will start caring about them the first time they try) $\endgroup$ – Thomas Bonini Mar 28 '15 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't that introduce a possibility that Air Marshal will crash the plane?. If we can trust the pilot, why would we trust someone else? This comment only to illustrate the question is a dead end. $\endgroup$ – mins Mar 28 '15 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ OK, so you want to put a political officer in charge of the pilots. What happens when the political officer forces the pilots to make a bad decision? Everyone dies. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hampton Mar 28 '15 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ Note that media sensationalization does not imply a sudden increase in a problem or sudden increased need to solve it (nor does it create an increase in benefit in a cost-benefit analysis of a solution). Just because you are suddenly aware of it (and care about it, for at least a few more days/weeks until the next big story comes up) does not mean it's an increased danger. It just means your favorite news anchors have something to talk about to keep you watching and keep their twitter feeds active for a few days. $\endgroup$ – Jason C Mar 28 '15 at 21:14
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Nothing.

At present, there are no serious technological plans to prevent pilots from intentionally crashing a plane. There are discussions about making sure that there are always two people in the cockpit, and at some point policies might be changed to make it easier for pilots to enter the cockpit (even if no-one in the cockpit wants them to), but ultimately we trust the pilot to do whatever necessary to ensure the safety of the aircraft (within certain bounds; see the flight envelope protection system in Airbus aircraft).

By limiting pilots' ability to control their aircraft, we seriously limit their ability to legitimately deal with emergencies. See, for example, cpast's example of one pilot having a medical emergency and the other pilot not being able to divert because they can't get approval. Even if both pilots are conscious and able, such a system would slow them down when responding to emergencies.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, I'd argue that there are lots of technological means to attempt to prevent pilots from crashing planes. Pitch stability, stick shakers, stall horns, lots of fancy warning lights and messages, the entire air traffic control system, etc. all come to mind. :) There just aren't many measures to prevent pilots from intentionally crashing planes, aside from the Air Force potentially having some say about where they crash them. $\endgroup$ – reirab Mar 28 '15 at 6:52
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    $\begingroup$ @blankip I can't tell you that nothing is happening. All I can tell you is that any such technology would be ridiculous and dangerous, and would be the result of a radically different attitude towards pilots than the current norm. I'm not sure what you're talking about when you say "automating space flights." A lot of flying is already automated, and it's likely that trend will continue. It may be that at some time in the future, pilots won't hand-fly at all. Whatever the case, though, pilots will always ultimately remain in control of their aircraft. At least for the foreseeable future. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Mar 28 '15 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ @blankip It's not that simple. Please remember that adding non-overridable security protocols (secure cockpit door with in-cockpit lockout button) is what got us into this particular situation in the first place. Adding "complex protocols" may protect against a particular kind of threat, but it will open up the possibility of an entirely different risk altogether ("an entirely different risk"). Any system that can't somehow be disabled on an aircraft is dangerous; you can't pull its circuit breaker if there's a fire or malfunction. And what if the override doesn't work and you need to divert? $\endgroup$ – Zach Lipton Mar 28 '15 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ Already this tragedy was caused by another security change. Before 9/11, the main pilot could have enter the cockpit, or at least could have crashed the door, because it wasn't reinforced against a possible terrorist attack. $\endgroup$ – Gray Sheep Mar 29 '15 at 11:41
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    $\begingroup$ "Complex protocols" that have to be satisfied before a pilot can deviate from the original flight plan will make the vast majority of cases more dangerous, not less. The proportion of flights that are deliberately crashed is insignificant compared to the proportion that experience malfunction, unexpected weather changes, or have to respond to some external factor like bird strike, unplanned redirects etc. In every one of those cases, complex protocols slow the pilots down in a situation where a fast response saves lives. $\endgroup$ – anaximander Mar 30 '15 at 11:59
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You can't. There exists no technical solution to this problem, aside from removing pilots entirely from flight decks. Pilotless aircraft would prevent this, but that's not "stopping the pilot from crashing the plane," it's removing the pilot entirely (and is then more vulnerable to unforseen situations, unless there's ground control, where you have the same problem where a person can crash the plane).

You have to pick what will have ultimate control of the aircraft, knowing that if it messes up, you will crash. Something must have ultimate, non-overridable control. It can be an autopilot or a human or a bunch of humans. Autopilots are much less flexible than humans, making them an imperfect choice for the controller-of-last-resort (even in Airbuses, where the flight envelope protection normally restricts the pilot, it hands control over to them if there's an issue it can't solve, and the pilot can turn it off by pulling enough circuit breakers). If a human has that role, they can crash the plane. If you want two people to have to share that role, you have to deal with what happens when you only have one available and need to act now. If one person has the role, they can crash the plane.

Not all problems have technical solutions. Aircraft are designed with the asusmption that a human pilot is in charge, and that they know what they're doing and can deal with abnormal situations. The aircraft can't always tell if there's an abnormal situation; no one on the ground really can either. Trying to have pilots who can't crash the plane is like trying to keep a doctor from murdering a patient (you can't do so through technical means, because no formal rule can perfectly sort out when something is a legitimate response to a problem and when it's not). The only solution is to make sure that pilots aren't the type to intentionally crash planes. Which, I mean, they do a pretty good job of -- intentionally crashing planes is incredibly uncommon among commercial pilots.

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    $\begingroup$ I do want to add there's another thing you can do - have another pilot in the cockpit, and also have flight attendants. See, for example, JetBlue 191. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Mar 28 '15 at 6:30
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't having the ultimate control at flight control with a group of people create a more ideal override situation? I would feel better if my pilot could only deviate if a group of people in flight control didn't allow him. Also I would think there would be technology that could help revert a plane from crashing into something as big as a mountain. Your answer seems more about what you can't think of than what might be a solution in the future. $\endgroup$ – blankip Mar 28 '15 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @blankip "Intentionally crashing planes is incredibly uncommon among commercial pilots." Media sensationalization does not imply a sudden increase in a problem or sudden increased need to solve it. Just because you are suddenly aware of it (and care about it, for at least a few more weeks until the next big story comes up), does not mean it's suddenly an increased danger. It also does not mean it's something that hasn't been thought about and considered before. $\endgroup$ – Jason C Mar 28 '15 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ @blankip "Wouldn't having the ultimate control at flight control with a group of people create a more ideal override situation?" Have you ever sat in a meeting at a large corporation with a lot of management people and tried to get a decision made? No one ever wants to take responsibility for a simple decision, and you want a committee to decide the fate of 200 lives when seconds count? $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Mar 29 '15 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ Heh, I love the phrase "by pulling enough circuit breakers." Just pull every breaker, one by one, until you get control back. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Mar 31 '15 at 11:57
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Systems exist to avoid CFIT (controlled flight into terrain). This has been the leading cause of fatalities in the last 50 years: Intact planes being flown into the ground or mountain sides by disoriented pilots and wrongly entered data. Precise navigation and detailed terrain maps make it possible that the F-16 will not allow its pilot to fly into terrain. Currently, the system on airliners will only warn that ground contact is imminent, but not prevent it. Enabling prevention is long overdue and entirely possible in airliners, and I expect both manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, to expedite their plans to get such a system certified for adoption into regular airliners. Maybe it will even be made mandatory.

This will at least allow more time in cases like that of 4U 9525, but it could not entirely prevent them. Just take the Mount Salak crash: The pilots thought they had a database problem and disabled the warnings. The system must enable ground contact when near to airports, and cannot avoid it when the navigation subsystem fails (no GPS contact plus wrong starting coordinates). In the end this kind of thinking reminds me of all those TSA tactics which always focus on preventing the last incident instead of avoiding the next one.

In the end, if people are determined enough, they will find a way around all preventive measures. Human ingenuity will always trump bureaucratic procedures.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, pilots must always have the authority to make an emergency landing at a non-airport. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Mar 28 '15 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ @raptortech97: Good point, but this should only be needed in case of engine or complete nav system failure. The system can only prevent ground contact if enough thrust is available, and would minimize sink rate otherwise. Ground contact will then be inevitable, and the pilot should be able to select the precise spot. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Mar 28 '15 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ Which, of course, probably wouldn't stop a pilot from turning off the nav equipment or shutting off the engines to disable the system. The point of all these things is more to prevent accidents than to prevent intentional crashing. $\endgroup$ – cpast Mar 28 '15 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ "In the end, if people are determined enough, they will find a way around all preventive measures. Human ingenuity will always trump bureaucratic procedures." That right there is the winning statement. If a human can devise a solution, another human will come up with a way to defeat it. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Mar 29 '15 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes in software engineering you'll hear people say something like "We built this system to be idiot proof, and then they built better idiots." $\endgroup$ – Calphool Mar 30 '15 at 14:33
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First two items in your list are part of class of crash issues so called "controlled flight into terrain" which is part of "human factor" issues.

The only way to avoid such crashes is to create airplane without pilots at all, that is what Google try to do with automobiles. And I believe there are no technical problems to do it right now. Modern aircrafts are able to takeoff, flight and land in fully automatic mode right now and do it in much safer manner than most pilots.

However there is social problem, we do not trust computers that much and most people prefere to fly with human pilot in command rather than a autopilot.

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    $\begingroup$ "Modern aircrafts are able to takeoff, flight and land in fully automatic mode": Yes... most of the time. What about A/P disconnecting when fed with inaccurate air data (AF-447)? In addition this is not true. There is no airliner which can operate landing gears automatically, at least not a civil one. $\endgroup$ – mins Mar 29 '15 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ No, it's not a "social problem". It's a well reasoned approach to risk management, and a mature awareness of what happens when technology fails. Technology is not magic from the gods. It is built by people who try to anticipate all the things that can go wrong with a system. However, if they miss something, and the system ends up in an undefined state, your best chance at not dying is with a human being improvising using their experience and knowledge as a guide. $\endgroup$ – Calphool Mar 30 '15 at 14:37
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Other than background checks and rules of practice about who is allowed to fly what when and who can/must be in the cockpit, no technical measures are currently being moved forward for that.

I don't think I'd want to have such technical measures in place, either. Sometimes, a pilot needs to crash-land an airplane in the best interests of public safety. The "Miracle on the Hudson" is probably the best example of this - the pilot could have tried to get to a landing strip but would likely have tragically crashed in a populated area; instead the pilot chose to crash-land the plane by flying it into terrain in a particular way that fortunately led to no loss of life by anybody on the plane or ground.

Flight 93 (to the extent that the general population now accurately understands the story of what happened on the 4th 9/11 jet) is another good example of when flying the plane directly into the ground, even if that kills everybody on board, was better than an alternative which would have probably killed everybody on board and a whole lot more.

Especially if there is a loss of cabin pressure or other emergency where a pilot needs to descend rapidly and change the route, having the authority to do that is important.

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Requiring two pilots in the cockpit at all times.

I am not sure that counts as a technological solution however.

You could imagine they could put emergency intercoms to air traffic control outside the cockpit and allow air traffic control to take control of an aircraft in an emergency. Or at least to remotely open the cockpit door.

Or... you could let the passengers vote electronically for whether the cockpit door should be opened or not...

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