Are we ready for pilotless commercial flying?

2020-01-27 04:45 - Marisa Crous
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Self-driving cars are one thing. But self-flying planes? 

CNN recently reported that although the tech has been in place for years to allow commercial jets to fly without pilots, the concept of 'pilotless flying' has never truly gotten off the ground, so to speak. 

Is it a comfort issue for passengers? We asked Twitter how they would feel boarding a commercial jet that flies itself: 

The largest percentage said "No, I would refuse" while many others said they'd feel comfortable if they knew such a plane was 100% safe. Now, 100% safe is a stretch as, of course, there is always the possibility of error: be that technical or human. 

In December, Airbus confirmed one of its test aircraft took off automatically at Toulouse-Blagnac airport in France.

READ: Do airlines and airports treat African passengers differently? 

“The aircraft performed as expected during these milestone tests. While completing alignment on the runway, waiting for clearance from air traffic control, we engaged the auto-pilot,” said Airbus Test Pilot Captain Yann Beaufils.

“We moved the throttle levers to the take-off setting and we monitored the aircraft.  It started to move and accelerate automatically maintaining the runway centre line, at the exact rotation speed as entered in the system. The nose of the aircraft began to lift up automatically to take the expected take-off pitch value and a few seconds later we were airborne."

CNN reports that pilotless jets are considerably more cost effective and deals with the issue of pilot shortages. And considering the fact that on average pilots only manually fly an commercial aircraft for just a few minutes, what's the big difference anyway? 

Safety always comes first, and looking back to past software errors with aircrafts like the Boeing 737 MAX, we have to take pause and weigh up the pros and cons of tech. 

INFOGRAPHIC: The future of air travel in Africa

In most of the world, air traffic laws still require two pilots in the cockpit. In future, air travel could be changing in a way where a middle-ground between piloted and pilotless flying could be reached, with only one pilot. But then when does she rest? 

Perhaps we could look at a future of more autonomy, but not completely pilotless.

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