A plane without pilots? The crazy idea begins to change into reality

Autonomous planes means “A plane without pilots” are not just an idea taken from sci-fi movies. The bold Airbus and Boeing as well as artificial intelligence tests indicate that this type of construction may one day actually fly into the air.

The knowledge of engineers and programmers in the field of artificial intelligence and “deep learning” algorithms increases from month to month. Over the last few years, work on the afore mentioned technology has allowed to create a new branch of the market. Which blindly follow not only the largest brands responsible for the automotive industry, but also kings of air travel: Airbus and Boeing. Autonomous vehicles are not only to relieve man from the need to perform specific tasks. But also to increase safety during the journey from point A to point B. While the first, autonomous cars are tested on American roads, so planes without pilots in the cockpit are just a song of the future . It turns out, however, that algorithms can change unrecognizable awakening:

A plane without pilots

A computer friend of the pilot

The current scheme of operation of most passenger aircraft is very simple. In the cockpit, apart from two pilots, There is a whole mass of electronics responsible for the most important flight parameters. Despite the poor technical specifications, on-board instruments are able to support the pilot sufficiently – both when traveling at a certain altitude and during the automation of processes allowing limited visibility landing (ILS Cat 3). Already, Airbus puts heavily on advanced systems controlling almost every actuator and “body” of the aircraft, but the future promises to be much more interesting.

Speaking at the Digital Life and Design conference in Munich, general manager of the Airbus technology department, Grazia Vittadini made a bold statement. The development of artificial intelligence on the aviation market would allow the future to replace the classic pilots from the cockpit. Vittadini knows, however, how much work engineers will have to do to make the described situation a reality. The head of Airbus rightly so inhibits the enthusiasm of the greatest technology fans.

Initially, Airbus’ artificial intelligence would assist pilots in routine tasks, such as faster programming of FMS or MCDU .Onboard computers used on a daily basis to automate a series of activities related to aircraft operation and control, as well as navigation and the flight itself.

After successful tests, Airbus positively views the abandonment of one pilot and placing the configuration in the cockpit: a pilot plus an on-board computer. The last and at the same time the key point that is at the very top of Airbus’s wishes is to create a fully autonomous plane with an empty cockpit controlled only by the forces of artificial intelligence.

Everything for money

The game for the specific elimination of pilots from the cockpit is worth the candle not only for aircraft designers, but also for most airlines. Autonomous planes would contribute to significant savings and maximize profits. According to the UBS report created in 2017, the option of not paying remuneration for pilots would save selected companies up to 31 billion dollars a year. This is not the end of extra cash that can be stowed in a piggy bank – over every 12 months, airlines spend an average of $ 3 billion to train their employees. According to UBS, the total elimination of pilots in the cockpit would allow Lufthansa to increase profits by 25 percent. At the same time, Ryanair would earn more by 29 percent. than now, and such lines,

How would the average passenger gain from it? Increasing airline profits through autonomous aircraft would translate into a drop in ticket prices in Europe up to 4 per cent on the art, and in the US up to 11 per cent.

Advanced technologies that maintain an autonomous plane in the air are not only increased security, but also further financial benefits for airlines – this time due to insurance. The mentioned UBS report states that in the period from 200 to 2014, insurance expenses on the aviation market increased from 576 to 896 billion dollars. By the end of 2020, this number is expected to exceed one trillion dollars.

A plane without pilots

Fear and risk

Director of the technology department of Airbus, Vittadini knows that the greatest achievement in the development of an autonomous aircraft will not be the technology itself, but the certification of selected solutions and convincing the appropriate regulatory authorities that the whole is as safe as possible for passengers and airspace. However, not everyone thinks that a plane without pilots is a good idea.

A study conducted on 8,000 The surveyed people indicated that more than half of them (54%) would not go on board knowing that there is no pilot in the cockpit – even if this type of trip would be much cheaper than usual. Only 17 percent approached the whole matter positively. respondents: the greater number of passengers in this group is the generation of people aged from 18 to a maximum of 34 years.

The development and promotion of technology is one thing, and earning on it and maintaining a constant flow of passengers is another. Currently, airplanes are considered the safest mode of transport – the risk of a plane crash is estimated at 175 people per 1 billion passengers. 20 percent of all accidents in the last few years have been caused by crew errors and the “human factor” itself. It is not difficult to guess that a reliable, autonomous aircraft could reduce the fear of passengers and make the air travel itself be subject to a much lower risk of error.

Not so fast

So when can we expect the first commercial flight during which we will not see pilots in the cockpit? Not so fast.

If everything goes as planned, it is only before 2030 that unmanned cargo planes will fly into the air, then time will come for business jets as well as helicopters. Airbus estimates that a passenger commercial and fully autonomous aircraft will only appear on the market around 2040. Observing the market of new technologies and artificial intelligence itself, it can be assumed that with such distant plans the global aviation market will not only work, but also look much different than it is today.

I am not surprised by the fact that the debates and media publications concerning flying aircraft are harmful to pilots – in most cases, in fact, you can find abuses that reduce not only skills but also considerable knowledge of people controlling Airbus or Boeing constructions.

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For now, however, all systems responsible for assisting the pilot during the flight are far from being able to decide for themselves the course of the entire journey – despite their advancement, they are able to analyze, interpret and understand data that have been previously stored in their memory using … human. A lot of time will pass before the engineers manage to create a real artificial intelligence, which not only will be able to learn, use their own experience from the past and understand all the mechanisms and operation of the aircraft, but also artificial intelligence that will be aware of the risk and will be she took care of her “life” and the lives of passengers, as two people are currently sitting at the controls in the cockpit.

The last flight disaster of the Lion Air 610 shows, however, that although in most cases infallible, the “digital brain” of the aircraft is still susceptible to errors.

And at the height of 35 thousand even the smallest, small problems can cause very serious consequences. 

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