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Airbus forecasts future flights without pilots 

Anastasia Dagaeva
November 22, 2017
Airbus look forward to project an unmanned, pilotless technology, leading to a single pilot operating commercial airplanes controls, to help airlines reduce costs on crews, according to Bloomberg

“The more disruptive approach is to say maybe we can reduce the crew needs for our future aircraft,” Chief Technology Officer Paul Eremenko said. “We’re pursuing single-pilot operation as a potential option and a lot of the technologies needed to make that happen has also put us on the path towards unpiloted operation.” 

The autonomous-driving trend originated in the car market, and aerospace companies are following it. Airbus and Boeing are to lead the tech race, making steps in developing artificial intelligent systems that will replace humans in the future. But making these plans reality is not an easy idea. 

A two (or more) — pilots were the industry’s proven amount of people in the cockpit, controlling not only the aircraft but each other as well. After a Germanwings pilot flew an Airbus jet into terrain in March 2015, killing all 150 people onboard, many airlines declared having two people in the cockpit a mandatory during the entire flight time. 

It’s also unclear what the insurance market and carriers’ reaction will be. There’s a big chance they wouldn’t accept or even permit the idea. “People are arguably apprehensive about these kind of things,” said Shukor Yusof, founder of aviation consulting firm Endau Analytics in Malaysia. “You have driver-less cars, driver-less buses, but for something that flies, that’s something different.” 

Last week, Airbus set up an innovation center in China’s Shenzen, near Hong Kong. The company will study the future of air travel. and China will provide Airbus an opportunity to develop new approaches and technologies. “I think the general aviation space in China is just opening up,” Eremenko said. “There’s an opportunity for China to sort of take a leap ahead as it has been prone to do in other areas and design the aerospace system, design the regulatory regime to be future looking, forward looking to enable urban air mobility.” Apart of that, European aerospace manufacturer has a division designated UAM (Urban Air Mobility) that is experimenting with a drone delivery helicopter technology. 

Boeing catches up, having purchased a company that is developing flying taxis for Uber and also bought a hybrid-electric airplane company.  Dubai government develops a 18-rotor pilotless transportation drone-taxi system, to transport people over dedicated destinations. The drone was designed by German firm Volocopter and the firm said it hopes to have the taxis up and running within five years.  “Implementation would see you using your smartphone, having an app, and ordering a Volocopter to the next Voloport near you,” said chief executive Florian Reuter. “The Volocopter would come and autonomously pick you up and take you to your destination.”   

Airbus’s A3 Silicon Valley think tank has been working on its Vahana flying taxi project, due for its first test before the end of this year. The pilotless, electric-powered vehicle is designed to serve like a conventional cab, having a great advantage over traditional taxis that got stuck in traffic jams. 

Widely known for creating advanced automatic controls for its commercial airplanes, Airbus explores technologies that will bring even more automation to the cockpit helping contrails with a high demand for pilots, like China to resolve its airmen shortage. According to reports, China will emerge as the world’s biggest aviation market by 2030. Discussions are on with Chinese companies such as Baidu Inc. to find ways to apply self-driving vehicles to the aviation industry, Eremenko said. 

Boeing estimates that commercial aviation industry will recruit some 637,000 pilots in the next 20 years. The industry should produce more cockpit crew as only 200,000 pilots have been trained since the start of the aviation industry.