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Modern Cockpits: Harder To Invade But Easier To Lock Up 385

HughPickens.com writes: Jad Mouawad And Christopher Drew write in the NY Times that although airplane cockpits are supposed to be the last line of defense from outside aggressors, airlines have fewer options if the threat comes from within. One of the major safety protocols that actually made planes safer in the past 15 years was that the cockpits were turned into fortresses. Unfortunately, that exact advantage was exploited by the co-pilot of the Germanwings plane on Tuesday to crash it intentionally. "It is shocking to me that there was not a second person present in the cockpit," says Mark Rosenker, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Access to the cockpit is strictly regulated in the United States. Passengers are not allowed to congregate near the cockpit door, and whenever the door is open, no one is allowed in the forward bathroom and flight attendants usually block aisle access, sometimes using a food cart. The Federal Aviation Administration mandates that a flight attendant must sit in the cockpit when either pilot steps into the passenger area; European regulations do not have a similar two-person rule, but they're now talking about creating one.

The Germanwings accident also points to potential shortcomings in how pilots are screened for mental problems, a recurring concern for an industry that demands focus and discipline in an increasingly technical job, often in stressful situations. In 2012, a well-regarded pilot with JetBlue, one of the airline's earliest employees, was physically restrained by passengers on a flight from New York to Las Vegas after displaying erratic behavior. In that case, the co-pilot locked the pilot out of the cabin and made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Tex. "Aircraft-assisted pilot suicides," as the Federal Aviation Administration calls them, are rare. They include the November 2013 crash of a Mozambique Airlines plane bound for Luanda, Angola, which bears an eerie resemblance to the Germanwings plane's demise. When the flight's co-pilot left to use the lavatory, the captain locked him out of the cockpit and manually steered the aircraft earthward. The crash of Egypt Airlines Flight 990 off Nantucket, Mass., in 1999, which killed all 217 people on board, was also caused by deliberate action, a National Transportation Safety Board investigation concluded. Experts on suicide say that the psychology of those who combine suicide with mass murder may differ in significant ways from those who limit themselves to taking their own lives.
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Modern Cockpits: Harder To Invade But Easier To Lock Up

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  • Ummmm ... duh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @11:56AM (#49355343) Homepage

    So, after 9/11 they rushed to put door locks on the damned things.

    And, now, to the utter shock and amazement of everybody ... someone in the cockpit can lock people out of it. Exactly as they designed it.

    I'm stunned, I tell 'ya.

    Of course, now when the pilot has to take a leak there is one less cabin crew, which I'm sure you can construct a scenario in which that's not a good idea.

    • Re:Ummmm ... duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:05PM (#49355411) Homepage

      And, of course, we can construct the scenario in which the co-pilot and one of the cabin crew conspires so that when the pilot has to take a leak it's the two of them in the cockpit, and then they can do the same damned thing.

      There's really no way you can 100% prevent this kind of thing.

      • Much less likely, I'd be more worried about the "depressed narcissistic arsehole" overpowering the stewardess and crashing the plane anyway.
        I suspect (ok, assume) this is what happened to that Air Malaysia plane just over a year ago, the one which vanished without trace.

        • Re:Ummmm ... duh? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:23PM (#49355569) Homepage

          Know many pilots?

          The difference between "depressed narcissistic arsehole" and "perfectly normal narcissistic arsehole" isn't as far as you'd think.

          Airline pilots are largely convinced of their own superiority to begin with.

          Hell, I suspect the C-level of executives in most large corporations gets you your "narcissistic areshole" out of the gate. All the ones I've ever met certainly are.

          • The difference between "depressed narcissistic arsehole" and "perfectly normal narcissistic arsehole" isn't as far as you'd think.

            I think if one is a depressed anything at all they should not be allowed to control the fate of hundreds of people. If a doctor finds any hint of depression then the airline and maybe FAA should be notified. Fuck doctor patient confidentiality when peoples' lives are directly at stake.

            • Re:Ummmm ... duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:47PM (#49355845) Homepage

              Gee, and one wonders why people might not be forthcoming with their doctors.

              As soon as you say "fuck doctor patient confidentiality" then WTF would you expect people to tell doctors anything for?

              So then the next thing you'd say is priests and lawyers should also not have confidentiality, because that would be inconvenient.

              Essentially, you are saying "it should be illegal to have secrets from the state".

              Think hard about what you're actually saying.

              • Re:Ummmm ... duh? (Score:4, Interesting)

                by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @01:12PM (#49356065)

                Essentially, you are saying "it should be illegal to have secrets from the state".

                No, he's saying it should be illegal to keep things like mental instability and dangerous suicidal mindsets secret from the state when the state is what licenses you to be entrusted, day-in, day-out, with the lives of hundreds of people. If you've got mental problems, don't look for a job where that is by definition a disqualifier. It appears this German guy knew that, and was hiding his problems from his employer and the regulatory agencies that license his operation of giant passenger aircraft.

                • Re:Ummmm ... duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

                  by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @01:33PM (#49356307)

                  It appears this German guy knew that, and was hiding his problems from his employer and the regulatory agencies that license his operation of giant passenger aircraft.

                  So what happens when you remove doctor patient confidentiality? The other depressed people will not see them and will still fly, only without having received psychiatric help or medication. That makes the risk larger, not smaller.

                  • Re:Ummmm ... duh? (Score:4, Informative)

                    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @02:41PM (#49356911)

                    So what happens when you remove doctor patient confidentiality?

                    In the US there is no true doctor-patient confidentiality when it comes to pilots. The medical certificate application [leftseat.com] requires a pilot to list all visits to a doctor in the last three years and the reason (item 19). Item 18 asks if you have ever in your life been diagnosed as having a plethora of conditions, including "(m) mental disorders of any sort; depression, anxiety, etc."

                    Further, FAR 67.413 [leftseat.com] says:

                    (a) Whenever the Administrator finds that additional medical information or history is necessary to determine whether an applicant for or the holder of a medical certificate meets the medical standards for it, the Administrator requests that person to furnish that information or to authorize any clinic, hospital, physician, or other person to release to the Administrator all available information or records concerning that history.

                    In other words, if you want to be a pilot* in the US, the federal government can ask you to provide access to any and all medical records there might be on you. If you say "no", they can yank your medical certificate. That means you don't get to be a pilot anymore -- not even as a sport pilot that doesn't normally need a medical certificate. It doesn't matter that the guy you share ownership of a sport aircraft with has never tried to get a medical certificate, if YOU had one and it was yanked you don't get to fly that aircraft as PIC legally, even though he can.

                    And making false statements on the medical application can also result in revocation of the medical. Simply failing to check the box for "depression" when you have been diagnosed and have not previously reported it is considered making a false statement.

                    * at any level higher than "sport".

                • Re:Ummmm ... duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

                  by AlejoHausner ( 1047558 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @01:34PM (#49356313) Homepage
                  I might agree with you, if mental-health diagnoses had any predictive power. But suicides are pretty much impossible to predict. Just because someone is diagnosed as clinically depressed does not tell you that they will commit suicide tomorrow. And there are perfectly well-adjusted people who kill themselves because, say, they have a terminal illness.

                  You also can't, in any reliable way, predict that someone will kill others.

                  Not to mention unconscious forces. The typical murderer doesn't know that he will kill tomorrow. But some violent rage may arise, triggered by some unforeseen incident. Sure, there are pre-meditated murders, but they are rare, and their very rarity makes the justice system punish them more severely.

                  Doctors can't predict that you will cause harm tomorrow. You yourself can't predict it, because you don't know what's really going on in your head. So let's not make everyone's life a pain by trying to prevent the unpredictable.

                  The next thing you know, they're going to make us take our shoes off at the airport because someone put a bomb in his shoe, or make us buy tiny bottles of shampoo because someone maybe planned to make explosives from liquid reagents in flight. Oh wait, such over-reactions have already taken place!

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by mjr167 ( 2477430 )

                  So what if you have one of these jobs and are going through a rough patch? Your wife just left you and took the kids, your mom died of cancer...

                  If admitting to having problems causes you to loose the one thing you love to do, what do you do? Mental health is not an easy problem to solve. We need to make it socially ok to admit that we need help and that everything isn't ok. When someone asks "how are you today?", we should be able to give something other than the canned "I'm good! How are you?"

                  The real

                • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

                  No, he's saying it should be illegal to keep things like mental instability and dangerous suicidal mindsets secret from the state when the state is what licenses you to be entrusted, day-in, day-out, with the lives of hundreds of people. If you've got mental problems, don't look for a job where that is by definition a disqualifier. It appears this German guy knew that, and was hiding his problems from his employer and the regulatory agencies that license his operation of giant passenger aircraft.

                  Except if t

              • So then the next thing you'd say is priests and lawyers should also not have confidentiality, because that would be inconvenient.

                Lawyers and doctors have a relationship worthy of protection for very clear reasons. Same with spouses. But priests/clergy? Not really agreeing with that one. Why should a relationship between a priest and anyone else be a legally protected one relationship? What benefit to society is provided by protecting that relationship? I cannot think of a single benefit to society by protecting that relationship as something special when investigating a crime or inquiring about mental stability.

              • Re:Ummmm ... duh? (Score:4, Insightful)

                by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @05:51PM (#49358271) Homepage Journal

                Gee, and one wonders why people might not be forthcoming with their doctors.

                As soon as you say "fuck doctor patient confidentiality" then WTF would you expect people to tell doctors anything for?

                That's what happens in the military, in the special combat services. The military has a high suicide rate. They've been trying to encourage combat personnel to talk about that with doctors or therapists.

                Military personnel believe, with some justification, that if they went to a doctor or psychologist about a mental problem, it would be the end of their career.

                And there's a military culture being against psychotherapy and against acknowledging mental illness.

                (This is assuming that psychotherapy can actually prevent suicide. There was no evidence it can, last time I did a literature search.)

                So then the next thing you'd say is priests and lawyers should also not have confidentiality, because that would be inconvenient.

                One of the few ways you can have therapy that is still kept confidential is to see a clerical counselor. Kenneth Starr subpoenaed Monica Lewinsky's therapist to give his records and testify, but Starr didn't subpoena Lewinsky's rabbi. Also, unlike health professionals, the clergy aren't required to keep written records.

                I've never heard of a prosecutor subpoenaing a clergyman to testify about his congregants. They're privileging religious counselors over secular counselors, which is one more example of hypocritical favoritism towards religion, but our government always ignores the First Amendment when it's politically expedient.

            • Would this not merely cause people to avoid psychiatric care?
              • Re:Ummmm ... duh? (Score:4, Insightful)

                by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @02:41PM (#49356917) Journal

                Would this not merely cause people to avoid psychiatric care?

                In the case of pilots, there is a legal requirement for the pilot to get checked out medically on a regular basis. For US airline pilots the maximum time between medical checkouts is six months.

                However, that statement is completely orthogonal to the other problem, which is that many people who could pass a psychiatric assessment kill themselves or others, and a large number of people who would come out of a psychiatric assessment with a big thick file of observed problems are perfectly reliable individuals in their daily lives and would likely be completely competent pilots.

            • I think if one is a depressed anything at all they should not be allowed to control the fate of hundreds of people. If a doctor finds any hint of depression then the airline and maybe FAA should be notified. Fuck doctor patient confidentiality when peoples' lives are directly at stake.

              The likely reason the co-pilot hid his depression was due to the stigma that mental illness carries. If companies end up instituting a policy that people with signs of mental illness be immediately fired, it will end up stigmatizing them further. Instead of trying to seek treatment for their problems, pilots with depression will just hide their issues. Particularly if you get rid of doctor-patient confidentiality, as it would mean a pilot seeking treatment would be reported by the very person supposed to be

      • And, of course, we can construct the scenario in which the co-pilot and one of the cabin crew conspires

        If the probability of a suicidal crew member is one in a million, then the probably of two is one in a trillion. That is close enough to zero that it doesn't matter. The plane would be more likely to be hit by a meteor.

        There's really no way you can 100% prevent this kind of thing.

        No rational person is expecting 100% perfection. But there are about a half dozen incidents that appear to be intentional crashes by the flight crew. So these incidents are roughly as common as terrorism. We are spending billions to keep terrorists from crashing planes. We are spending

        • If the probability of a suicidal crew member is one in a million, then the probably of two is one in a trillion.

          Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

          I'm rank the probability you pulled those numbers out of your ass as being 100%.

          Honestly, the people in the chain you trust are the ones who can do more damage ... from the pilots to the ground crew, to the baggage handlers, they're the ones who can really mess with stuff.

          And yet we've seen a bunch of news stories about the baggage handlers being the ones smugglin

          • by khallow ( 566160 )

            One sufficiently motivated guy with the right access can cause all sorts of problems.

            So what? I don't see the point of arguing something can't be perfect. Should we just no longer allow flying because of your concern?

          • Re:Ummmm ... duh? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @01:28PM (#49356237) Homepage

            Actually, 1 in a million might be too high of an estimate. There were 37.4 million flights scheduled worldwide last year (Source [garfors.com]). The summary gives 5 examples from 1999 to present. Let's double that number (and exclude 2015 since this year just started) just to be safe. So 10 incidents in 6 years for an average of 1.6 incidents per year. So the risk of any one flight having a suicidal pilot/co-pilot determined on bringing the plane down is 1 in 22.4 million.

            You likely have a greater chance of dying on a plane from a heart attack than from the pilot/co-pilot crashing the plane. It's just that "co-pilot locks out pilot and crashes plane" makes for a juicier news story than "pilot and co-pilot fly planned route with no major issues and land safely just like they did a dozen times the previous week."

      • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

        No, nothing is 100% save. It is less likely to have two people committing suicide together than one alone. However, this makes it not impossible. If we replace pilots by computers they will go wrong or their communication get hacked or something else, especially, something which we did not think about.

      • Rather than locking the co-pilot out, just shoot/stab them, and keep the door locked.

        If the pilot has control of the airplane, the pilot can crash the airplane. It's really that simple.

        • by Skater ( 41976 )

          Rather than locking the co-pilot out, just shoot/stab them, and keep the door locked.

          Pilots have to go through the same security checks the passengers do. Or, at least, the pilots in the US do - I've seen them in the security checkpoints several times.

      • An L-1011 has 5 seats in the cockpit. It'd take a mutiny to do so.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          When was the last time you saw an L-1011 in regular service? I think the last one was Oceanic 815, and we know what happened to that.

      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        I think it's more likely that the male co-pilot could overpower the female flight attendant while the pilot is in the lavatory--no conspiracy necessary.

        Putting guns in cockpits only makes the task easier.

        Really what's needed is to have 3 people in the cockpit at all times to eliminate the near-guarantee that a single person could take over the plane.

        It would also help to give airliners a "return to home" feature that could be triggered from outside the cockpit, similar to the emergency brake on passenger pl

        • Re:Ummmm ... duh? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Paul Jakma ( 2677 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @01:40PM (#49356389) Homepage Journal

          Gender is irrelevant. Egypt Air 990 crashed *without* locked cockpit doors. The captain was back in the cockpit within 12s of the co-pilot initiating a descent. He was making control inputs within 27s. However, he didn't start to suspect the cause of the problem might be the co-pilot until between 30s to 33s. The aircraft hit the sea at about 43s.

          Every second may be vitally precious in these situations. Locked cockpit doors, even with over-rides, will waste potentially extremely-critical time.

    • Of course, now when the pilot has to take a leak there is one less cabin crew

      There are several simple solutions:
      1. Do what the military does: use a portable urinal.
      2. Do what many countries do, including America: Require another member of the crew to wait in the cockpit until the pilot returns.

      Option #1 costs $10 [tagpilotsupply.com], which is way cheaper than replacing an aircraft.
      Because of this incident, option #2 is likely to be much more widely adopted. New Zealand announced yesterday that this will now be their policy.

      • by itzly ( 3699663 )

        Option #1 costs $10 [tagpilotsupply.com], which is way cheaper than replacing an aircraft.

        Luckily, all the pilots are male.

      • Pilots dont take craps?
    • by alen ( 225700 )

      in the USA when the pilot or co-pilot goes to take a leak someone from the crew takes their place inside the cockpit. there is never one person in the cockpit.

    • The technology is pretty well thought out, but clearly can't currently defend against an insane pilot.

      This YT video describes the system.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      All they need to do is issue different codes to each member of the flight crew, and allow an override of the lock toggle if a certain number of flight-crew codes are entered into the access pad.
  • by bughunter ( 10093 ) <bughunter@NOsPAm.earthlink.net> on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:01PM (#49355377) Journal

    Unfortunately, if one of the pilots wants to take the aircraft somewhere (be it into the side of a mountain, or to Cuba, or wherever) there's little the engineers, airlines or ATC can do about it. Any security measure will have a gap.

    And also, the pilots must have control of the aircraft. It's far more likely that an exception to protocol or security will be required to save lives than to endanger them.

    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      Definitely! We could automate flying, take off and landing, but this would result in other type of incidents. Especially, in extreme situations, humans can think outside of the system, while computers can only reason over the facts they possess and therefore do not have a deeper understanding of reality (this might change in future, but we are not close to that). Beside that, I would not have any trouble going to Cuba, but flying into the side of a mountain is something I would like to avoid).

    • >Any security measure will have a gap.

      Except you know... another equally strong guy sitting next to you, with the same keys as you, and increasingly suspicious as to why you keep sweating and talking about Valhalla.
  • by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger.gmail@com> on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:02PM (#49355393)

    Having a flight-attendant sit in for a two-person rule may not have saved the plane, but at least the co-pilot would have to work harder for it.

    • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:08PM (#49355437)
      Or you could change the way the cockpit door lock works.

      If what I've read is right, anyone in the cockpit can lock the door such that it cannot be opened from the outside even if they have the code, but only for a five minute stretch. If a two-person rule is put into place, also put into place two switches further apart than arm's reach that have to be pressed in-sync or in very close succession. If the flight attendant occupying the second position disagrees then the door does not prohibit a code from opening it. This way, even if one person in the cockpit kills the other, the door cannot be code-blocked to the cabin.
      • OK, smart guy. Let's take it to the absurd.

        The bad guys have depressurized the plane, and they're slowly cutting parts from cabin crew to get the code.

        The pilot and co-pilot are doing their best to keep from crashing, and can't spend time mucking about with the locking mechanism.

        There simply isn't a way you can 100% guarantee this is 100% safe, and you can pretty much always come up with a scenario in which it works against you.

        Between bad movies and spy novels, there's just so damned many improbable corn

        • The bad guys have depressurized the plane, and they're slowly cutting parts from cabin crew to get the code.

          Why would the cabin crew have the code? The code is for the pilots. If the cabin crew want to come in then the pilots unlock the door from the inside. If your'e talking about eliminating edge cases, giving the entire cabin crew the code is a great place to start looking.

          and can't spend time mucking about with the locking mechanism.

          It's a single switch. The 2-switch idea could mean one switch is on the top left of the console, for the pilot, and the other is on the top right, for the co-pilot. They can each reach the switch with one hand while seated, but it would

          • by jez9999 ( 618189 )

            Why would the cabin crew have the code? The code is for the pilots. If the cabin crew want to come in then the pilots unlock the door from the inside. If your'e talking about eliminating edge cases, giving the entire cabin crew the code is a great place to start looking.

            Erm, this is a good idea, but surely the cabin crew WOULD have the code. If one pilot incapacitates the other, the cabin crew realize the plane is going down, they need to get into the cockpit. It's OK because as long as both pilots are AO

          • "Why would the cabin crew have the code? The code is for the pilots."

            Here is airbus's own explanation: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=R... [youtube.com]

            TL;DW: if the pilots are incapacitated, the cabin crew can punch a code to save the day; the door will unlock after 30 seconds unless the pilot pushes the button to deny access. (the pilots are alerted by a beeping signal.) Actually, a pretty sensible way to do it.

      • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

        If a two-person rule is put into place, also put into place two switches further apart than arm's reach that have to be pressed in-sync or in very close succession.

        So the pilot and co-pilot are in the cockpit and the door is locked. Then one of them has a heart attack and is incapacitated. Now no-one can get into the cockpit.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        The whole point of the cabin lock-out is that a terrorist can't threaten/torture the code out of a crew member and gain access to the cockpit. All you need to do is add a second terrorist to press the other switch and they now got access to the cockpit. That would be silly.

        The right solution is always having two persons in the cockpit. That way one would have to assault and incapacitate/kill the other which is a pretty big psychological barrier compared to turning a few knobs and waiting for impact. Anyone

  • A Bit Fishy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:04PM (#49355407)

    Feel free to put on the Tin Foil Hat, but something has been bugging me about this whole thing.

    It seems to me that one of the many primary directives of a flight control system would be prevent controlled flight into terrain. Knowing where you are, where you are pointed and what's in front of you terrain wise is pretty stand stuff. Airbus planes already actively prevent pilots from doing stupid stuff that could overstress the aircraft. So how was this guy able to "program" a decent into a fucking mountain range? Makes no sense. Either something is off, or someone needs to file one hell of bug report or enhancement request.

    • Re:A Bit Fishy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by itzly ( 3699663 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:08PM (#49355429)

      Planes need to be able to do emergency landings, so it makes sense there's an override switch for landing in the terrain.

      • by sycodon ( 149926 )

        Perhaps. But with Airbus aircraft, the computers are in control and there is no such thing as "manual". And a computer should not allow an aircraft to fly into a mountain.

        Is my TFH on too tight?

        • Re:A Bit Fishy (Score:5, Insightful)

          by itzly ( 3699663 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:31PM (#49355673)

          The computers aren't in complete control. If a pilot wants to do an emergency landing, he must have that option. The computers prevent some things, and they warn for others, but it's impossible to have a computer judge all kinds of complex situations, including various kinds of mechanical or sensor problems.

          Also, look at United 93. In some cases, it is preferable to have a plane crash into the terrain at high speed instead of having a hijacker control it into an office building.

          • Re:A Bit Fishy (Score:5, Insightful)

            by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:54PM (#49355893)

            Also, look at United 93. In some cases, it is preferable to have a plane crash into the terrain at high speed instead of having a hijacker control it into an office building.

            Or with US Airways Flight 1549 (which was an Airbus A320-200) it was preferable to plop it into a river.

            Sully and the flight crew made a judgment call that they weren't going to reach any of the possible landing fields, so they turned the plane around and dropped it into the Hudson. It's unlikely the Airbus computers thought that was an appropriate action...

        • Re:A Bit Fishy (Score:5, Informative)

          by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:50PM (#49355867)

          Your TFH is on a bit tight, but your real problem is lack of knowledge.

          Computers are not "in control" of Airbus aircraft, any more than computers are in control of Ford cars. There is absolutely a manual - it just isn't a physical link, because we've moved beyond wires and pulleys, or even hydraulics.

          Large aircraft are designed for skilled pilots - ones who can respond to the often unusual disasters that strike when in the air. There's an override for everything, because you never know when you might need to do something unusual in response to some other failure. Want to engage the thrust reversers while in-flight? Sure - normally that would be catastrophic, but that might be the only way to prevent an overspeed in a steep dive. Want to land without lowering the gear? It'll yell at you but it won't stop you.

          In fact, very few things even require an override. The normal thing for an aircraft to do when it thinks the pilot is making a mistake is to yell at them, not stop them. And in this case, we have on the cockpit voice recording the sounds of the alarm saying "PULL UP. PULL UP. PULL UP."

          But the aircraft didn't stop him, because there are easily dozens of situations where stopping him would have been even worse. For example, an all-engines out emergency landing. Or a GPS malfunction, and there's no mountain there. Or... you get the picture.

          There are no aircraft that don't have a mode that acts like manual. There are a few military aircraft where, even in manual, the flight computers will make constant control movements to keep it stable, but even in a B-2, if you slam the stick forward, it'll dive right into the ground.

    • Re:A Bit Fishy (Score:4, Informative)

      by Cimexus ( 1355033 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:25PM (#49355589)

      As I understand it, these systems don't actually ~prevent~ the pilot doing something that they have explicitly commanded, provided it's not something that as you say will push it outside of its stable flight envelope (and even there, you can still do that by forcing the flight control systems to revert to alternate law). In this case there wasn't really any 'programming' involved ... he simply turned a dial to tell the autopilot to descend to an altitude that was lower than the terrain level (incidentally, at the point the descent was initiated, they were near the Mediterranean coast so the local terrain level was close to 0 ... however their path then took them into much higher terrain).

      You are correct that the aircraft 'knows' about the terrain. It'll throw warnings at you if you tell it to descend below the safe altitude for the sector you're in, and when terrain is physically detected nearby you'll get GPWS alarms etc. But that's information for the pilot only - it won't physically stop you flying somewhere you've explicitly told it do go.

    • Feel free to put on the Tin Foil Hat, but something has been bugging me about this whole thing.

      It seems to me that one of the many primary directives of a flight control system would be prevent controlled flight into terrain. Knowing where you are, where you are pointed and what's in front of you terrain wise is pretty stand stuff. Airbus planes already actively prevent pilots from doing stupid stuff that could overstress the aircraft. So how was this guy able to "program" a decent into a fucking mountain range? Makes no sense. Either something is off, or someone needs to file one hell of bug report or enhancement request.

      That's exactly what I was thinking.

      And to answer itzly's comment below, NO ONE (that expects to walk away) is going to be landing a passenger airliner in "terrain". You'd might as well crash it neatly into the side of a mountain, because your death will be more certain and quicker.

      However, I think that autopilots are now getting "smart" enough that an overarching "rule" could be created to take control of the aircraft FROM THE PILOT if the present flight trajectory places the plane (and its meatsack car

  • by Cimexus ( 1355033 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:10PM (#49355457)

    I agree that the 'two people in cockpit at all times' rule that already exists in the US is a good idea and I'm sure this will now be introduced in Europe. Some airlines in Europe, Canada and elsewhere are already introducing it, as we speak.

    As for the argument that the tougher cockpit doors and lockout mechanisms are to blame for this incident ... that could be argued, but those changes have probably saved more lives over the last 14 years than were lost in this tragic incident, so rolling them back would be unwise. Admittedly this is somewhat like Lisa's tiger rock - we don't ~know~ how many potential hijackings or cockpit intrusions haven't occurred simply because would-be hijackers know that taking that approach is useless now. But looking at the number of hijackings per decade pre-9/11 and comparing to now, I think it's safe to say the strengthened doors and new cockpit access protocols were a net improvement.

    But all the security protocols in the world can't completely prevent incidents like this. Two people in the cockpit may make it slightly more difficult, but it just means the suicidal pilot needs to incapacitate the other person in there first. That adds an additional mental barrier (it is psychologically 'easier' to simply turn a dial and set an altitude below the terrain level, than it is to kill someone or knock them out first), so will prevent at least some of these incidents that may have otherwise occurred. But there is no complete solution because at the end of the day, those in the cockpit are in control of the machine and can do what they want with it. We put our trust in them, and in the airlines' ability to ensure their medical and psychological health.

    • Dubious assertions (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sjbe ( 173966 )

      As for the argument that the tougher cockpit doors and lockout mechanisms are to blame for this incident ... that could be argued, but those changes have probably saved more lives over the last 14 years than were lost in this tragic incident

      That's a pretty dubious assertion and you certainly have no evidence that it has saved any amount of lives. The main thing protecting the cockpit these days is the realization by most passengers that their safety is in their own hands. Anyone threatens to hijack a plane today and the passengers are very unlikely to sit quietly like they would have pre-9/11. The cockpit door lock is something that sounds sensible but which has unclear protective value and obviously introduces a new failure mode.

      • Yeah - I did say that it's a bit like Lisa's tiger rock :) It's an unprovable assertion because it relies on the non-occurrence of events which may or may not have occurred anyway.

        Still, I don't think literally rolling back the changes to the doors made post-9/11 is a good idea. The two-people-in-cockpit rule and maybe some refinements of the way the timed lockouts work is probably a better way to reduce these kind of incidents than making the doors less secure. If you make the doors able to be completely l

  • What about a limitation on the locking mechanism that causes the door to unlock during significant course corrections and descents at low altitude? (If you really want to cover contingencies there could also be a date-based override code for keeping the cabin locked which the pilots would have to radio for.) That leaves the pilots free to secure themselves in case of an internal upset during a normal flight, but the passengers would be able to mob the cabin in most of these scenarios. You could also add,

    • by Latent Heat ( 558884 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:22PM (#49355561)
      I believe it was mentioned that it was a Good Thing when a co-pilot locked out a captain who was freaking out, allowing the co-pilot to make and emergency landing and save the passengers.
    • What about a limitation on the locking mechanism that causes the door to unlock during significant course corrections and descents at low altitude?

      Such as in the event of an emergency landing initiated by a hijack attempt?

  • While this air crash was undeniably tragic, the focus on the lockability of cockpit doors seems to be ignoring a fairly basic consideration: Who do you trust more: the people you hired to fly the plane or everybody who purchased a ticket to ride it?

    That doesn't rule out the possibility of problematic pilots; but it seems very, very, likely indeed that you are better off with a system where you can robustly lock the door, rather than one where blocking access is difficult. There may be room for other imp
    • Actually, we are trusting the passengers, in the words of Jerry Pournelle, we are trusting the passengers to riot rather than submit to a hijacker.

      The Shoe Bomber Richard Reid got stomped by the other passengers, and the Underwear Bomber Abdul-Mutalub was fought and stopped by a fellow passenger.

      On the other hand, if someone really wants to crash the plane, can the other pilot or the pilot with volunteer passenger "muscle" stop this. The passenger on that one plane in 9-11 broke open the cockpit door -

  • There are thousands (and many more) pilots of outstanding skill, character, values, etc. that dream of being an airline pilot. No shortage of pilots, and yet here we have someone that has done something horrible and thrown that opportunity away. Ok so we all have problems, even pilots dealing with many airlines skimping on pay and benefits (that's another story). It reminds me of the unabomber who had top career choice of a math professor at Berkeley but threw away that job to move into the backcountry to b
    • by itzly ( 3699663 )

      When you're dealing with people who are no longer thinking rationally, normal rules don't apply.

  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @12:16PM (#49355501) Journal
    airlines have fewer options if the threat comes from within.

    This shouldn't be a surprise. It's the same thing with networked systems. It's not outside threats which pose the problem, it's the people on the inside who either inadvertently or deliberately cause the problems.

    Once you've granted someone access to your data, no amount of firewalls, air gaps or anything else can prevent that person from doing damage in some form, even if only taking that data and giving it someone else on the outside.

    In this case, since the co-pilot was on the inside and had the ability to override the security code to open the door, the damage was done long before he crashed the plane.
  • 1. doctors and psychologists who do reviews for organizations that have employees with major responsibilities: the military, nuclear plants, airlines, etc, they should be required to inform employers

    2. then, employers who have employees they know have mental problems *have* to remove them from job positions where loss of life is easily caused. if that means removing them from the only field they are trained to work in, so be it. time to get a new career in a new field

    it's not discrimination. it's safety. th

    • by itzly ( 3699663 )

      To be safe, they should only hire retired postal workers.

    • Would you rather that depressed people seek treatment from professionals or avoid treatment like the plague for fear of the loss of their livelihood?

      Personally, I'd rather that depressed people, even if they hold the lives of others in their hands, be free to seek treatment with no fear that they'll lose their livelihoods or otherwise be stigmatized. I'd draw the line at ACTUALLY SUICIDAL. A possible compromise is a TEMPORARY leave WITH PAY until they've got their issues sorted out.

      Because the fact is tha

    • 1. doctors and psychologists who do reviews for organizations that have employees with major responsibilities: the military, nuclear plants, airlines, etc, they should be required to inform employers..... it's safety. there was apparently warnings that mental health evaluators and employers knew that this guy had serious depression. he should simply never have been allowed to continue to be a pilot....

      That's exactly the reason that this person did not tell his employer that he was having a mental health problem. He knew that if he did, he would be out of a job and have to give up his dream of being a pilot. I agree with your statement in principle, that some people have no business operating an airplane, but we also need to look at creating a culture where people can be honest about their health problems and be given an opportunity to get back on the horse once they recover.

  • A door lock override from the ground if the flight crew calls from the main cabin with an appropriate code?

    • People outside the cockpit should not be able to unlock the cockpit, period. Put more people in the cockpit if you want, but that's where control of the plane needs to stay. Also, if one entity can send a signal to the plane to unlock everything, what's stopping any other entity from doing that?

UNIX was not designed to stop you from doing stupid things, because that would also stop you from doing clever things. -- Doug Gwyn

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