By Amy Schellenbaum
March 26, 2015
Germanwings airplane
Credit: Peter Cavanagh / Alamy

News that the co-pilot of Germanwings flight 4U 3525 might have intentionally crashed into the French Alps on Tuesday has once again raised the question: in the age of the drone, when wars in the Middle East are being fought, in part, from air-conditioned rooms in Nevada, why don’t commercial flights have an option for remote, on-ground override?

T+L asked science journalist and author of The Plane That Wasn't There: Why We Haven't Found MH370 Jeff Wise, whose obsession with the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has made him something of an expert on commercial flight anomalies, that very question.

The logistic problem:

There are some 19,000 registered commercial aircraft in the world, Wise says, and outfitting them would be an enormous task. More over, “you’d have to have somebody monitoring them,” Wise says. “You have to have somebody on the ground saying he knows better than the pilot up in the air.”

The philosophical problem:

“The pilot has always been in command and responsible for the lives of everyone aboard that plane,” Wise says. “So not only are the planes not equipped, but to stop trusting the pilots? That would be a radical, radical change of mindset.”

He adds, “If you can’t trust the pilot, why would you trust the guy taking control on the ground? The question is this: who are you going to trust? Right now you trust the pilot. If we decide to throw that model out the window, we’re getting into very foggy territory.”

The occupational problem:

For pilots, the thought of somebody thousands of miles away being able to control the aircraft is disconcerting, to say the least. “How are you going to get the pilot to agree to let that happen?”

The human problem:

“As long as you have human beings in the equation you’re going to have room for error and malicious intent.” Period.

Amy Schellenbaum is the Digital Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @acsbaum.