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Enhanced Security in Aviation: Remote Control and Automated Landing Systems

In the last several decades, advancements in aviation technology have significantly improved the safety, efficiency, and capabilities of aircraft. One area of keen interest and ongoing development involves the potential for remotely piloted and automatically landing aircraft, initially prompted by calls for countermeasures to aircraft hijacking.

Automation in Aviation: A Brief History

Since as early as the 1950s, the military has utilized remote control technology, initially developed for target drones. The SAGE program, initiated in 1959, marked an important milestone by enabling General Dynamics F-106 Delta Dart fighter aircraft to be remotely piloted into combat.

Commercial aviation started to see the impact of automation in the 1980s with the introduction of “Autoland” systems. By the 2000s, this technology was used widely and frequently, allowing thousands of aircraft to perform auto landings each day around the globe.

Modern Autoland Systems

The autoland technology has undergone significant evolution, now encompassing three primary categories, or “CATs,” of landing systems, including CAT IIIa, CAT IIIb, and CAT IIIc. These systems range in their level of autonomy and required conditions for use, from needing visual confirmation of the runway at 50 feet above the ground (CAT IIIa), to entirely automatic touch down and braking processes (CAT IIIc, used in aircraft such as the Boeing 747-400).

The Challenge of Retrofitting

The challenges associated with implementing such advanced technology in commercial aircraft are not to be underestimated. One of the primary hurdles is the adaptation of the mechanical systems, such as flaps and landing gear, for remote control. Current estimates for retrofitting the existing airline fleet range from $10 billion to over $300 billion spread over a period of 10 years.

Possibility of Remote Control

In spite of these challenges, the possibility of remote control is real and the potential technology already exists. ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System), a digital communication system currently used to exchange information between the aircraft and ground control, could potentially be expanded to include remote control capabilities.

Advancements in Navigation and Display Systems

Alongside the improvements in remote control systems, significant strides have been made in aviation navigation and display systems. The adoption of GPS (Global Positioning System) technology has revolutionized navigation, providing highly accurate position data. Electronic Flight Information Systems (EFIS), first introduced for civilian use in 1985, have modernized cockpit displays, making information more accessible and intuitive for pilots

Flight Management Systems and Autopilot Evolution

The concept of Flight Management Systems (FMS) has also been a game-changer. An FMS is a specialized computer system that automates a wide variety of in-flight tasks, easing the workload on the flight crew. The autopilot system, once a separate entity, is now an integral part of the FMS, executing commands generated by the FMS or by the pilot manually.

A pre-approved flight plan is loaded into an FMS, and the system then uses this information to control the aircraft along its planned route. In essence, modern digital autopilot systems, used in conjunction with throttle control systems, can fly the aircraft with minimal input from the crew.

Towards a Safer Future

The advancements in digital communication and control systems in aviation pave the way towards a safer future in commercial aviation. The notion of a “safe return” system, guided by commands uploaded to the FMS to direct the aircraft to the nearest airport, is theoretically plausible.

Despite the cost and technological challenges, the future of aviation could include widespread implementation of remote control and automated landing systems, marking a new era of enhanced safety and security in commercial aviation.


  1. Countermeasures to Aircraft Hijacking
  2. Drone aircraft in military
  3. SAGE Program
  4. Automated Landing Systems
  5. CAT IIIa, CAT IIIb, CAT IIIc explained
  6. Boeing 747-400 autoland capabilities
  7. Challenges of retrofitting aircraft
  8. Costs of retrofitting
  9. ACARS
  10. GPS in aviation
  11. EFIS
  12. Flight Management Systems
  13. Evolution of autopilot systems
  14. FAA Flight Plan Information
  15. Modern autopilot and flight management systems
  16. Potential for ‘safe return’ systems in commercial aviation
  17. Challenges and possibilities of implementing remote control and automated landing systems
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