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It can look like the plot of an action movie, be the nightmare of those who are afraid to fly, or even the dream of the most heroic or courageous: if the pilot has a problem that prevents them from controlling the aircraft, would an inexperienced passenger be able to conduct the landing of an airplane?
Well, the situation seems to be the result of the imagination of Hollywood screenwriters, but it became reality in May, at Palm Beach International Airport, in Florida (US). The pilot of a single-engine Cessna 208 fell ill and became unconscious, forcing one of the passengers to take command and land the plane with the help of instructions from the Control Tower.
This type of situation, known as a talk-down landing, has at least six official records in the 21st century, being possible mainly thanks to ILS technology, or Instrument Landing System.
The famous instrument landing system, in which radio signals give precise information about the horizontal and vertical position of the aircraft as it approaches the runway, is often used in low visibility situations, but can also be useful in moments of emergency in which the plane is commanded by someone without proper instruction.
Technology Alone is not Enough
This does not mean that performing a landing or any task related to the command of an aircraft is something simple or fully automated. Even with technological advances, the knowledge and experience of a skilled pilot are critical.
In the case of Florida and even in the other official reports found around the world, they were not ordinary passengers without any contact with aviation before, but people with a particular interest in the subject, who had already dedicated themselves to learning general notions of how to fly, and with a good dose of luck, in addition to the dedication of the flight controllers to make the landings.
Within this context, one of the most important aspects is the ability of the “interim” pilot to remain calm, as well as the controllers to give instructions as clearly as possible, without letting nervousness take over the cabin.
Security in Focus
Even though technology can make the aircraft a little easier for inexperienced people to handle, landing a plane is a complicated task. There are many steps and commands to be executed. Ordinary people may have trouble finding the right devices on the dashboard to use.
The situation can lead to loss of emotional control or even mistakes that – in a matter of seconds – can ruin everything. Performing the wrong commands can cause irreversible damage, especially considering that the aircraft would be commanded by someone inexperienced and unable to correct their own error.
Thus, the answer to the question in the title of the article is, yes, but the probability of an accident is much greater than that of success. It is worth remembering that commercial aircraft have large crews. According to Brazilian legislation, they are only authorized to take off with the presence of co-pilots trained to take command in case of emergencies.