For many people, the dawn of cheap air fares has opened up corners of the world we once never thought possible of visiting. We can now travel across Europe and beyond for a fraction of what it would once cost.
However, would YOU board a pilotless plane if it meant cheaper fares?
That is the question posed by investment bank UBS which has recently found that technology to remotely control passenger and cargo planes could be ready by 2025. The group believes that the move could save airlines up to $35 billion (£27 billion) a year and could lead to substantial reduction in air fares.
There is one major caveat to that – will passengers be able to stomach boarding a plane without a pilot and controlled by a remote on the ground? The response from UBS’ survey was not the backing they were expecting.
Officials from the group revealed that of the 8,000 people that responded to its research only 17% said they would likely undertake a pilotless flight, compared to 54% who said they wouldn’t. UBS said it was slightly surprised that respondents would still not buy a pilotless flight ticket even if it was cheaper than a standard one.
UBS found that younger respondents were more open to the idea of a pilotless plane but aviation expert, Chris Tarry believes that it would be a bold step for any airline to embrace this technology.
Mr Tarry explained: “This is such a long way into the future. It’s going to be a very brave airline that takes its pilots off planes. What is a customer’s number one concern? That they get you there safely.
“There has been a lot of automation, and a number of landings at Heathrow are now on auto-land. But operating a drone is a very different thing to putting passengers on board and getting them off safely.”
UBS estimates that pilots cost the aviation industry $31 billion a year, plus an extra $3 billion in training and that pilotless planes would save a further $1 billion a year in fuel.
The idea has been backed by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary who said in 2010 that he would look into the possibility of only having one crew member in the cockpit. Mr O’Leary’s reasoning was that a second pilot was only there to “make sure the first fella doesn’t fall asleep and knock over one of the computer controls.”
While it may be a long time before we’re seeing a pilotless passenger plane, UBS said cargo planes would be the first to become automated. It believes that due to the 24-hour nature of many cargo flights it would make sleeping hours less of a problem. Many aircraft currently use automation by engaging auto pilot during flights but they have not been used without the aid of a pilot.
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