Pilotless planes are poised to become a reality around 2040 and they might pave way for substantial fare reductions, but are passengers willing to get on an automated aircraft?
Investment bank UBS tells Guardian that pilotless planes could save the airline industry around $35 billion each year. The firm estimates that carriers spend $31 billion for pilots and $3 billion for their training annually. Remote-controlled planes are expected to fly more efficiently too which can save carriers another $1 billion in fuel.
In return, these savings can lead to reduced ticket prices. American carriers can give as much as 11 percent discounts while European airlines can offer up to 8 percent reductions as per the report.
However, in a survey conducted by UBS involving 8,000 participants, only 17 percent agreed to travel in a pilotless plane. More than half of the respondents said they still wouldn’t buy tickets for a pilotless flight even if the fare is significantly cheaper.
UBS remains positive because many of the respondents who are willing to travel in an unmanned aircraft belong to the younger group. “This bodes well for the technology as the population ages,” read the report.
In a recently released statement, Airbus revealed that they have successfully completed trials of the Sagitta “unmanned aerial vehicle.” The demonstration took place in South Africa for seven minutes and the vehicle was able to fly “completely autonomously on a pre-programmed course.”
In recent years, commercial flights have seen a change in the number of pilots per plane. From three pilots, the number has dropped to two. UBS believes that one pilot per plane isn’t an implausible concept.
“In commercial flights, if the move from two to zero pilots may be too abrupt over the next 10 to 20 years, we could see first a move to having just one pilot in the cockpit and one remotely located on the ground, particularly on flights below six to seven hours [to be under pilots’ fatigue].”
What do pilots think about pilotless planes?
Their utmost concerns are safety and security. Flight safety specialist Steve Landells tells the news outlet that while automation in the cockpit isn’t new, “every single day pilots have to intervene when the automatics don’t do what they’re supposed to.”
Stationing pilots in control towers on the ground might be a promising idea, but there are greater things to think about. Pilots on the ground can control planes at the first sign of trouble, but some wonder how will carriers handle emergency situations on board?
Landells also mentions the possibility of cyber-attacks. With hacking becoming more prevalent, he believes that the aircraft’s system has to be “airtight to ensure those with malicious intent couldn’t take control.”
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