Pilotless aircraft may become a reality in the not too distant future, with Boeing planning to start test flights this year.
Back in 2011, James Albaugh, the then CEO and President of Boeing, told the world, “A pilotless airliner is going to come. It’s just a question of when”. It seems like we may now finally have a date, with Boeing planning to deliver new pilotless aircraft by 2025.
The technology, Boeing’s vice president recently said, is there. Autopilots are able to take off, land and engage in flight midair and it has been a standard for many years. Forms of pilotless aircraft have gained much popularity recently, with drones that can be purchased for a few hundred dollars or less.
Boeing plans to trial the technology in mid-2018 through a simulation. Shortly afterwards, they plan to start a test flight in the real world.
Major airlines worldwide are supportive of the idea and their support is vital in ensuring any hopes of this technology becoming a reality.
There is a currently an estimated necessity for 1.5 million pilots over the next two decades. What will be the effect on this figure if this pilotless aircraft ‘takes off’? Not all pilots are fans of the technology. The vice-president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, Shane Loney, commented, “Airlines around the world are having some difficulty getting enough pilots to fly aeroplanes. Is this Boeing’s attempt to get around that problem?”
Of course, any prospect of pilotless aircraft will have to convince regulators of their safety. Could a self-flying plane perform what Captain Sully did when a flock of geese destroyed a U.S. Airways engine? “If it can’t, then we can’t go there,” said Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s vice president of product development.
And this is where the heart of the problem lies. Would passengers be convinced to fly in a commercial plane without a pilot? Major airlines and Boeing should conduct extensive market research to investigate the consumer demand and concern, should this technology become a reality.
It would be a significant milestone in aviation if pilotless aircraft became the norm. With demand for space tourism surging upon the invent of Virgin Galactic, we may even eventually see ‘pilotless spaceships’.