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This iPad app will land your airplane if your pilot can't

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You might think that Citymapper is a pretty useful app to have in an emergency, but it’s nothing compared to Xavion: an iPad app that can take control of a small airplane and steer it to the nearest airport without any human interaction. Whether it’s engine failure, a fuel shortage, or the pilot is just too drunk to fly, Xavion will step into the breach for $199 a year, taking control of the plane via Wi-Fi and working out the nearest safe place to land.

commercial systems can cost $30,000

The app has long been a useful tool for pilots, tracking flight-path information and weather warnings. But this autopilot update — as reported by Popular Science — takes Xavion into unprecedented territory. Similar systems for small airplanes can cost as much as $1 million to develop to the FAA’s strict guidelines and subsequently sell for around $30,000. Bringing down the cost of an autopilot system and allowing it to be moved from plane to plane (many small aircraft pilots rent their craft) is a massive boost for aviation security.

"In practice, pilots would use this app to guide them down to just before the threshold of the runway," app creator Austin Meyer told Popular Science. "At that point, any pilot can take over and land the airplane." Meyer, who also made the popular flight simulator X-Plane, which he used to test Xavion, says that even if the pilot doesn’t actually land the craft, the only significant damage would be to the plane’s landing gear and that everyone onboard would "walk away."

The Xavion app installed in a light airplane. (Xavion)

Xavion isn’t ever going to be certified by aviation authorities but Meyers is confident it’s more than safe enough to hit the market without them. And while apps like this get less attention than mass-market offerings, they’re a fantastic testament to the power of the iPad and tablets in general. This is what the real power of mobile computing looks like: leveling the playing field and empowering individuals. Oh, and keeping the skies safe too.