Your New Pilot: H.A.L.

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The European Commission (EC) is funding development of a 230-seat pilotless airliner, according to a report this week by Flight International. According to the magazine, the math behind the program forecasts a jet with 10 more seats than its piloted brethren plus design and technology improvements that would allow it to burn 1,500 fewer gallons while also requiring less maintenance. The report does not indicate if those advances would be for some reason unavailable to pilot-included aircraft. The EC's $691 million project aims to produce an aircraft "capable of seamless operations in the proposed Innovative Future Air Traffic System." Forecasters expect slightly higher acquisition and operating costs for the pilotless aircraft, with the latter consequence due in part to higher aircraft utilization. Early this month, the Ottowa Citizen reported that Boeing had a patent pending for an "uninterruptible" autopilot that would fly and land an airliner in the event that its pilots were killed, incapacitated or otherwise relocated by aspiring evildoers. Some might see the EC's latest move as a different approach to unwanted influence in the cockpit.