The technology exists to make pilot-free flights a long-term reality, but with passengers wary of fully automated planes, single-pilot craft could offer a happy compromise.
Self-driving vehicles and drones are already relatively commonplace, but pilotless passenger planes, Forbes reports, are an entirely different matter. The outlet observes that it’s passenger perception – and not technology – that is proving to be the most significant barrier in preventing the realization of pilot-free aircraft from taking to the skies.
However, while autonomous planes may still be a pipe dream, single-pilot craft might be a more palatable option for passengers, who understandably view the presence of a human on the flight deck as a comfort. “Single-pilot operations may be more easily accepted than fully autonomous flight, as it still guarantees human intervention, if necessary,” state Jerome Bouchard and Nicolas Baggioni in their piece, adding that the pilot in the cockpit would also be supported from the ground by a second pilot.
Though a kind of technological compromise, this intermediate step may also satisfy cost-cutting carriers who are looking to save on operational and fuel costs. Partially automated or single-pilot flights could help the industry to make considerable savings on labor and this, say the two writers, “would essentially change the airline business model.”
While passengers might be initially reluctant to accept planes without pilots, there’s one area of aviation where these kinds of craft could make inroads. “Over the short run, one place we are likely to see the adoption of single-pilot operations and maybe even autonomous flight is in the movement of cargo,” say Bouchard and Baggioni.
But while “there is a certain inevitability involved” with respect of single-pilot planes, this is something that just isn’t so with fully automated flights. In fact, the pair concede that it could take a considerable amount of time for a cagey public to become more comfortable with this kind of technology.