German air controllers urge remote control of planes after crash

A Germanwings airplane takes off from Duesseldorf airport April 2, 2015. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

FRANKFURT/BERLIN (Reuters) - The German air traffic control authority has urged the aviation industry to develop technology that ground staff could use in an emergency to take remote command of a plane, which could help prevent a repeat of a Germanwings crash last month. Investigators believe that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked his captain out of the cockpit and deliberately crashed the Germanwings plane into a French mountainside on March 24, killing all 150 people onboard. "We have to think past today's technology," Klaus Dieter Scheurle, head of the Deutsche Flugsicherung air traffic control authority, said at a press conference on Wednesday. Such a system could be used in an emergency on the ground to take remote control of a passenger plane and safely land it, he said. "I wouldn't say it's the simplest solution though," he said, adding any such technology was likely to come only in the next decade. Pilots associations are skeptical. German pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit said remote control could be open to abuse. "We also have to ask whether such a solution would really be an improvement, after all it's the pilots who are sitting in the cockpit and they're the ones with all the information," VC spokesman Markus Wahl said. The British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) also urged caution. "We must act with careful consideration to ensure new safety risks or concerns are not created, such as those raised by the vulnerability of any form of remote control of a passenger aircraft," a spokesman said. Since the Germanwings crash, European airlines have implemented a rule that two people must be in the cockpit at all times and Germany has set up a task force with the aviation industry to consider changes to medical and psychological tests for pilots. (Reporting by Alexander Huebner and Victoria Bryan; Editing by Noah Barkin and Susan Thomas)