Would You Fly Pilotless?

January 9, 2019

Not only does it look like driverless cars are becoming a reality, so too are pilotless airplanes. According to a UBS report, the airline industry would save $35 billion each year if all the planes were pilotless. This is evidently a huge amount of money that would be saved. There are two issues: many pilots would lose their jobs and airlines may lose customers if people are afraid of flying without a pilot. The UBS report also released that only 17% of passengers would be willing to fly without a pilot in the cockpit.



Photo: Ross Parmly on Unsplash 



Even though planes already have a lot of auto-flying features, there is something comforting to people about having a human person in the cockpit in case anything goes wrong. People may be forced to adjust sooner than they might like. It looks like the technology for remote-controlled planes may be ready by the year 2025. Throughout the 2030s, improved technology could give rise to “automated business jets and helicopters, and finally commercial aircraft without pilots” (Ivana Kottasova, CNN).



While it may seem that the jump from current planes with pilots to future planes without pilots is a big one, this is not truly the case. Today, computers help pilots perform landings, and according to CNN, there are usually only a few minutes during which the pilot manually flies the plane. During the rest of the flight, pilots “are continually monitoring and adjusting aircraft navigation and systems, communicating with air traffic control and preparing for the next phase of the flight (Ivana Kottasova, CNN). In order for computers to completely replace pilots, they would need to be able to do all these tasks themselves, something that people today believe will be technologically possible in the near future. Taking this into account, it may not be such a radical change for pilots to disappear altogether. Given the financial advantage this offers to the aviation industry, it is definitely in their best interest to push for this outcome.


In reality, it is very likely that the switch to pilotless planes would be gradual and happen over a period of years. As the number of successful flights increases, the technology will be used in more and more planes. Cargo planes would probably switch over to pilotless programs first, and once the technology has been sufficiently perfected, commercial planes would receive pilots. Although I mentioned at the beginning that many pilots may be out of a job, there is actually a predicted shortage of pilots in future years due to the rapid increase in aircrafts. Thus, the transition to pilotless planes may actually prove beneficial in multiple respects. Whether we like it or not, technology is the future, and all we can do is attempt to understand it and then inevitably adjust! We need not fear, however, for usually technology brings about much more good than it does harm.





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