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Cameras on Planes Put to Test

October 06, 2003|From Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — The federal government is evaluating technology that would put video cameras on commercial flights so people on the ground could monitor pilots and passengers and get an early warning of hijackings or other trouble on board.

The Boeing Co. demonstrated a satellite system to Federal Aviation Administration officials in two test flights this year, showing how images could be sent from a plane to the ground, said John Loynes, an FAA program manager in Washington. A Boeing 737, equipped with seven cameras, transmitted images of the cockpit and cabin.

Pilots have fiercely opposed efforts to put cameras in cockpits as an infringement of their authority, while passenger advocates have supported them as a way to prevent terrorist acts.

FAA officials stressed that the tests were preliminary and said the agency's focus was purely on whether the technology would affect air safety. Greg Martin, the FAA's chief spokesman, said that there would be further tests and that other agencies could decide whether or how to use the technology.

"Our role is exclusively to evaluate the technology. The FAA is not interested in monitoring pilots," he said.

In the tests, one camera in the aircraft showed the pilots from behind, one was in first class and the others showed the rest of the passenger area. Workers on the ground, at Boeing offices in Seattle and in McLean, Va., could choose which camera view to look at by touching a computer screen, said Joseph J. Tedino, a Boeing spokesman.

Loynes described the tests as successful, with a few glitches in which video images were briefly garbled.

"There were no insurmountable problems," he said.

Boeing officials discussed the technology at a recent security conference in New Orleans. Denver uses a similar video system to monitor part of its public transit system.

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