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Safe Automatic Flight Back and Landing of Aircraft

Final Report Summary - SOFIA (Safe Automatic Flight Back and Landing of Aircraft)

The SOFIA project was a response to the challenge of developing concepts and techniques enabling the safe and automatic return to ground in the event of hostile actions. Activities in this sense were started in the framework of the SAFEE SP3 project. SOFIA project was proposed as the continuation of the SAFEE works on the flight reconfiguration function (FRF), the system that automatically returns the aircraft to ground. SOFIA aim was to design architectures for integrating the FRF system into several typologies of avionics for civil transport aircraft; development of one of these architectures; validate (following E-OCVM) the FRF concept and the means to integrate it in the current ATM; assess the safety of the FRF at aircraft and operational (ATC) levels (applying ESARR).

The SOFIA product was the FRF system that takes the control of the aircraft and manages to safely return it to ground under a security emergency (e.g. hijacking), disabling the control and command of the aircraft from the cockpit. This means that the FRF creates and executes a new flight plan towards a secure airport and lands the aircraft at it. The flight plan can be either generated on ground (ATC) or in a military airplane and transmitted to the aircraft or even created autonomously by the FRF system itself. The execution of the new flight plan is autonomously performed by FRF without any command and control from ground and also allows to perform aircraft rely procedures with a military aircraft. Additionally, SOFIA investigates the integration of such solution into current and future airspace.

SOFIA followed a stepwise approach in its development, formed by four main interrelated steps, facilitating a clear continuation of the activities. SOFIA was split in four main steps:
- assessment on the issues related with the operation of the FRF;
- design of the FRF system: functions, databases, components, interfaces etc.;
- development of the FRF system for enabling the validation exercises;
- validation of the FRF system and its integration into the airspace.

SOFIA, through its research, has reached the following main conclusions:
- SOFIA has defined different procedures for managing aircraft in security emergency being controlled by the flight reconfiguration function (FRF).
- Safety and operability of these procedures were validated and approved by ATCOs.
- SOFIA started the assessment of regulatory and certification frameworks for such security systems not only by the research itself but also through discussions with ICAO, EASA, Eurocontrol, SESAR and several national CAAs.
- It is needed a ground authority and/or system (like a ground security decision system) at European level to: take legal responsibility of decisions; generate and track the flight plan for the FRF aircraft; coordinate with national authorities, ANSP and airports.
- SOFIA moves aviation security a step forward.
- SOFIA opens the door towards the exploration of new application areas for a flight.
- Reconfiguration function functionality in fields like: safety; small general aviation aircraft; highly automated systems; UAS; single crew operations.
- SOFIA validated FRF functions are now available for aircraft operations in the future SESAR environment specially for 4D trajectory management and trajectory generation.

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