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Advances in robotics are having as much an impact on the civil aviation industry as any other technology-rich business.

Currently at airports around the world robot devices are parking aircraft, parking passengers’ cars, sorting their baggage and transporting them from one terminal to another. Most of this technology is green, clean and highly efficient.

But this increasing move towards computer-enabled automation highlights the vulnerability of these systems to malicious and non- malicious interference.

How prepared are the regulators and aviation security professionals for advances in technology which will make more aviation-based systems vulnerable to attack?

Improvements within nano-computing will allow for extremely small electronic devices to be capable of advanced computation. This will enable all types of products to be used for information gathering and processing.

A threat assessment report published earlier this year by the EU policing agency, Europol, warns that advances in nanotechnology and the use of advanced robotics to automate systems and processes will all be vulnerable to more criminal exploitation.

With systems on aircraft becoming more automated the ability for someone to be able to “hack” into its control systems is no longer the stuff of science fiction.

Last month a cyber security professional told the FBI that he was able to control an aeroplane engine from his seat after hacking the on-board computer system.

Chris Roberts maintains that he carried out his work in the public interest. Mr Roberts is an expert on airline security issues.

No one is in much doubt that unmanned air vehicles (UAV) without proper regulation, pose a genuine threat to civil aviation safety. As the market for UAVs has matured and the technology has grown both more sophisticated and easier to buy, the number of users and potential users have grown.

This has posed some real problems for regulators on both sides of the Atlantic. The Federal Aviation Administration and Civil Aviation Authority have both been forthright in their demand for proper safeguards near airports and critical infrastructure sites.

But that has not proved enough. Following a number of incidents in which there have been near misses involving passenger aircraft and unregulated UAV flights, the responsibility for prosecuting illegal UAV use in the UK at least has passed from the CAA to the police.

That is a sure sign that the threat posed by automation and unmanned systems is being taken very seriously.

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