Self-flying planes could be coming to the commercial airspace much sooner than expected, but the main obstacles is getting passengers comfortable with it.
- Self-flying planes have been used in the military for years, but now many in the aviation space think that small self-flying planes could be introduced commercially by the end of the decade and large passenger planes could be commercial in the decade following.
- Aircraft manufacturers have long been working toward commercial self-flying planes, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is preparing to make plans for the incoming change.
- Six years ago, a report from the Swiss bank UBS estimated that autonomous planes could save the air transportation industry more than $35 billion per year, but a public survey from Ipsos found that 81% of Americans would not be comfortable traveling on a self-flying plane.
- Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun is confident that self-flying planes will be in the future for commercial airlines, but a process will need to be made to instill confidence and ease the public into the new future of flight.
Why it’s important
The future of aviation is nearing, and the future has no pilot on board.
Self-flying planes could be introduced commercially in the next 10 years, which will help save airlines billions of dollars, but many flyers are uncomfortable with the thought of riding in a plane with no pilot.
Autonomous planes have been used in open airspace by the military for years, but soon the technology could be moving to the commercial airspace flying passengers with no pilot behind the wheel. If self-flying planes took over, it would save the air transportation industry more than $35 billion per year, according to a report from the Swiss bank UBS.
“It’s all about money,” says pilot and Allied Pilots Association spokesman Dennis Tajer. “Manufacturers are looking for the next innovative technology to deploy so that they can sell it and make money, and airlines are looking at how they can do this more cheaply.”
Regardless of the autonomous planes saving airlines money, many passengers are uncomfortable riding in a plane without a pilot. A 2017 global survey found that a majority of people would be unwilling to fly in a plane without a pilot, even if the airfare were cheaper, and a public survey from Ipsos found that 81% of Americans would not be comfortable traveling on a self-flying plane.
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun says he believes self-flying planes are coming soon, but it will take time for flyers to become comfortable and trust in the autonomous aviation process.
“I think the future of autonomy is real for civil,” Says Calhoun. “It’s going to take time. Everyone’s got to build confidence. We need a certification process that we all have faith and believe in.”
The introduction of self-flying planes will start slowly by introducing small self-flying cargo planes in the next 10 years. If the cargo planes are successful and no safety concerns arise, they will slowly start implementing larger passenger planes.
Until everything is certified by the FAA, there will likely be a pilot on board to ensure that all of the technology is working correctly, and in the case, something goes wrong, the pilot can step in and intervene, but many companies are eager for the day in which a safety pilot doesn’t have to be on board.
There is no definite timeline, but many airlines are hoping for the first autonomous cargo planes to hit the air by 2025, with plans for small planes to start carrying passengers by 2030.