Last years Garmin announced an auto-landing feature for its navigation system. If a pilot is no longer able to fly the plane all it takes is a passenger to press a button for 2 seconds to engage the auto-landing system. You might object that we have had planes able to land themselves using ILS (Instrumental Landing Systems) for quite some time but the ILS requires a pilot to take the plane to intercept the gliding path plus managing several other aspects, like flaps, speed, braking….
With the Garmin Autonomi the activation of the auto-land system starts up a number of processes that eventually result in the safe landing of the plane to the nearest available airport. One process searches for availability of a nearby airport and communicate with the ATC -Air Traffic Control -(using voice as if it were a pilot) declaring an emergency, the position of the aircraft and the request to land at that airport asking for clearance. Once received (again via voice from the ATC) the clearance for a specific runway it creates a flight plan and gets it cleared from the ATC (vectors, altitude and speed) then engages the autopilot on that flight plan. Periodically it communicates to the ATC first and to the airport Tower the aircraft position, verifying clearance and sets all the parameters of the aircraft to approach and then land, including voice messages to passengers (like: “ladies and gentlemen we are 10 minutes from landing, please fasten your seat belt”….). Once the plane has landed it provides instructions to passengers on how to open the doors and when to do that … (take a look at the video clip).
On May 18th, 2020, the first plane equipped with this system, a Piper, received the FAA certification to use this feature. It is an amazing result that opens the door to a new era of flying, not as much for commercial aircrafts but for the future flying cars that we have been dreaming about and that have been remained at the prototype demonstration stage because of safety concerns. One of this concern is about what would happen if the driver (is it a driver or a pilot? -we are stepping into murky waters) becomes incapacitated. The other issue is how to manage a growing traffic density (I will address this in a future post).
What is also interesting is that Autonomi has been designed to retrofit existing aircrafts. It just requires that the aircraft is equipped with a good auto landing system. Autonomi is basically replacing the pilot, not the auto landing system of the plane.