Big commercial aircraft are already routinely guided in for automatic landings at large airports, as their autopilot follows radio signals transmitted by ground-based antennas. Such auto-landings currently aren’t possible at most small airports, although that could be about to change, thanks to a new German-designed system.
The technology is being developed as part of the German federal government’s C2Land program, in a collaboration between the Technical University of Munich and Technische Universität Braunschweig.
It relies partially on GPS, which it uses to guide small private aircraft towards small-airport runways even in low-visibility conditions … generally, at least. The problem is, the supplied coordinates aren’t exact or reliable enough to put the plane right on the runway, so the pilot would still have to take manual control before the aircraft touched down – if the system were using GPS alone, that is.