Passengers are not ready for pilotless planes, but cargo may be
- More than half of 8,000 people surveyed by Swiss bank UBS are unwilling to ride in a pilotless plane, no matter the cost reduction, The Verge reported Monday. In total, only 17% would travel on an uncrewed flight, though that number grew to 27% when the age of the sample group shrank to 18–24, and then to 31% for those aged 25–34.
- Pilotless planes could potentially save airlines nearly $30 billion a year in fuel gains resulting from optimized flight paths, as well as the elimination of pilots and other staff and their training expenses.
- The UBS report also predicts that air taxis and cargo flights will be first to fly without pilots, eventually followed by business jets and helicopters. Commercial passenger flights will be accepted last.
Supply chains are working on developing self-driving cars, adjusting to the possibility of self-driving trucks, and preparing for fully autonomous ships. As the wave of automation spreads to transportation, pilotless planes were to be expected.
Self-driven vehicles provide significant benefits to companies looking to decrease costs by removing labor from the equation. Such reductions in costs may then translate to lower prices for clients, which would help the air cargo industry gain market share from other modes of transportation. In addition, it would also reduce the impact of a shortage of air pilots, which require extensive training and often work overtime to fulfill hundreds of trips.
However, the concept of self-driven vehicles has met resistance across industries. Safety concerns prevail, as opponents of automation suggest technology is not yet capable of responding to emergencies and other drivers' errors as well as humans. Other concerns include the need for cargo safety, with stakeholders arguing crewless ships, driverless trucks or pilotless planes cannot secure valuable products or respond to equipment malfunction.
Yet, planes are different as they are already highly automated. According to Wired, almost all airplanes rely on Autopilot, a system in which a pilot enters information to which the plane's computer responds: adjusting and maintaining the airplane's heading, altitude, and speed. A further level of automation also helps operate the plane: the Flight Management System (FMS). The FMS deploys the flight plan designated by the pilot, relying on sensors throughout the plane to calibrate speed and climb.
But since Autopilot and the FMS cannot respond to emergencies, planes still require a crew. Given the lack of air-pirates and the need for airport crew to unload goods, a pilotless plane may be the most feasible transportation technology. If that is the case, the most expensive mode of transportation may not be so for long.