Sat, Oct 04, 2003
Someone Is Watching
What's next from the
TSA? Smile. You're on Cabin Camera.
The TSA is investigating technology that would put cameras both
in the cockpit and cabins of passenger aircraft so that personnel
on the ground could keep an eye on things in the air. Pilots are
none too happy about the idea either. They say cameras in the
cockpit would infringe on their command authority, allowing someone
on the ground to monitor -- and perhaps even direct -- events on
board the flight. But advocates of the new system say it's another
weapon in the war against terror.
The technology appears to be available. Earlier this year,
Boeing equipped a 737 with seven onboard cameras. The signals were
bounced off Boeing satellites and received at test centers in
McLean (VA) and Seattle (WA). The cameras showed the cockpit from
behind the pilots, the first class cabin and the main cabin from a
variety of angles. Ground personnel were able to switch cameras at
will by simply touching their computer screens. Sure, there were a
few garbled pictures, but FAA Program Manager John Loynes said,
"There were no insurmountable problems."
Boeing also has
hand-held technology that allows someone in flight to communicate
communicate back and forth with ground operators using both audio
and video. But the FAA says the idea of using cameras and hand-held
communicators to monitor flights in progress is a very preliminary
one. A spokeswoman said there's still a lot of testing to be done
and decisions to be made before the systems become a reality.
It's an idea that's been around for ten years or so. Every time
it comes up, pilots rage. So far, that rage has kept cameras out of
the cockpit. They complained that ground personnel could
misinterpret what they see in the video images and cause problems
for air crews.
But Dave Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association,
says this is an idea whose time has come. "In the old days, one of
the flight crew could come out and check things out, but they can't
do that anymore. These days, we want to keep the cockpit
impenetrable to terrorists or hijackers."
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