For decades, autopilots have controlled how planes climb, cruise and descend in the air. Now, Honeywell International Inc. is engineering these automated aviators to maneuver airliners on congested tarmacs in order to make planes safer and more fuel efficient.

Still being tested in the laboratory, the system is years away from showing up on passenger flights. And even independent experts supportive of the concepts are skeptical that any of the early versions will work exactly as advertised.

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