There has been plenty of coverage in the media of driverless cars and experts are predicting the first fully automated vehicles will be widely available by 2025. Which is staggering to those of us who can remember having to struggle with a manual choke in a morning.
The speed in which driverless cars have gone from sci-fi movie concept to actually appearing on the roads is incredible but, with that technology well on the way to being adapted into mass production, thoughts are now inevitably turning to the next challenge.
Eyes are turning towards the skies and the possibility of pilotless airliners.
Scary or what?
Notice I said pilotless airliners. Not aircraft.
There is nothing new about the later. The Germans developed the basics of the technology with their V1 rockets during the Second World War and now drones of all sizes are commonplace.
Getting an unmanned aircraft from A to B and landing it safely isn’t a problem. However, taking that technology and putting it into an airliner with hundreds of passengers on board is an entirely different thing altogether.
But, it is something Boeing are actively looking at and they even hope to carry out some testing within the next twelve months.
An idea too far?
A quick straw poll amongst fellow passengers on a recent flight I took was unanimous. No way would anyone I asked be willing to fly on a plane without a pilot.
Which is understandable but, pilotless airliners are surely inevitable. Technology, as technology does, will advance rapidly and it will only be a matter of time before the first airliners take off sans pilot.
It is often said a human pilot is only needed to for taking off and landing a plane with the on board computer doing most of the work anyway.
With that in mind a truly pilotless aircraft doesn’t seem such a stretch. Something Boeing’s vice president of product development, Mike Sinnett, agrees with. “The basic building blocks of the technology clearly are available,” he told Reuters.
The biggest barriers to commercial pilotless airliners will be regulatory. Manufacturers such as Boeing are going to have to jump through a lot of hoops before this form of travel gets approved by governments and safety regulators. “I have no idea how we’re going to do that….. we’re studying it right now,” Sinnett said.
There is also the question of insurance. Would the costs of insuring the aircraft and its passengers make flights unaffordable?
Why do we need pilotless airliners?
It’s purely down to the volume of passengers and the number of pilots needed for the ever increasing number of flights. According to estimates an additional 1.5million pilots will be needed over the next twenty years.
Hopping on a plane is now as routine as catching a bus (except for the passport thing of course) and, as demand continues to grow, the airlines will struggle to recruit and train the number of pilots they need.
Pilotless aircraft are a practical necessity and, although they won’t be a commercial reality for quite some time, they will definitely arrive. Will you happy to fly on one? Let us know in the comments below……