In the wake of the deliberate crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 on March 24 into mountainous terrain in France, NASA acknowledges that an Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS) developed initially for military use could be adapted to commercial aircraft, but cautions that such a transition remains some way off.

The Auto-GCAS system was developed over a period of more than 25 years by NASA, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, and Lockheed Martin. It entered service last year with the Air Force’s F-16 fleet. The system—which has already been officially credited with saving two aircraft from ground collisions—briefly takes over control of the aircraft until the danger has passed before handing control back to the pilot.

But while NASA agrees that a future version of Auto-GCAS could be a promising safety benefit for commercial and general aviation aircraft in the long term, the agency is anxious to manage expectations. “Some specific efforts (both NASA internal and with Boeing) have looked at integrating this system onto both commercial and general aviation aircraft. While it is possible to transition this system to the commercial airline industry and general aviation community, the level of automation and system isolation to prevent onboard tampering directly drives the time and effort it would take to bring such a system through design and certification,” NASA says. 

The agency adds that “it would take considerable coordination with other Federal agencies and the airline industry to bring this technology to the point where it will directly benefit the flying public.”