Pilotless Transport Aircraft By 2025 Says UBS

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A report by the Swiss financial services company UBS says pilotless aircraft may take to the skies carrying cargo and passengers by 2025. The report estimates airlines would save $35 billion per year from decreased labor costs, reduced training expenses, improved fuel economy and cheaper insurance. One big hedge on the arrival date for unmanned transport aircraft: The 2025 estimate provided by UBS is for technical feasibility only. Proposing a date by which such an aircraft would be acceptable to regulators and passengers calls for a higher degree of speculation. UBS discovered a significant minority of people would be willing to fly in an aircraft without a pilot today (46%) and surmised that public opinion may shift rapidly towards unpiloted aircraft when faced with reduced fares and evidence of improved safety.

Although well beyond the horizon, pilotless aircraft are an appealing prospect for airlines bracing for the need to hire several hundred thousand new pilots in the next decade. Wages and training costs have been rapidly rising at regional U.S. airlines over the last several years as the major airlines have hired pilots from the regionals at unprecedented rates to cover increased air travel demand from economic expansion and a wave of retirements pushed back when the FAA raised the mandatory retirement age for Part 121 pilots.

Comments (10)

Personally I absolutely won't fly if pilot less aircraft are flying around.
Too dangerous, no more human ingenuity or instinct to cope with unforeseen situations.
No thanks, please stop this madness.

Posted by: John Piepers | August 8, 2017 1:10 AM    Report this comment

Well, John, at least robot airplanes won't ingeniously or instinctively mistake taxiways for runways. ;-)

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 8, 2017 9:04 AM    Report this comment

Eight years from now? This has to have been written by someone who has not lived through any aviation related developments. Drones are pretty likely, the trials are already underway. Pilotless cargo aircraft would have to be a conversion of current models. The conversion would take time, the certification would take much longer. This is like the repeated promise of nuclear fusion, it's always 25 years away and never gets closer. I think I'd rather walk than trust computers over pilots when something really bad happens. What would a computer have done when faced with no working engines and no airport within gliding range? Would it have chosen the Hudson?

Posted by: Chris Hann | August 8, 2017 11:15 AM    Report this comment

By then the drive to the airport will be in a lifeless self driving electric car/golf cart of some sort and life will no longer be worth living...

I'd imagine if a robot was driving Flight 1548 rather than Sully there would have been a burning wreckage filled with corpses just short of LaGuardia. Ingenuity takes a soul.

Posted by: William kalichman | August 8, 2017 11:27 AM    Report this comment

There is so much development that has to be done before an aircraft can be truly "pilotless". It wasn't long ago that the U.S. Military lost a highly classified, remotely piloted UAV to a simple case of GPS "spoofing". The aircraft would also require sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence/programming to deter any remote hacking attempts into its software, again something not even the military has mastered. I don't think we will see transport category pilotless aircraft whether it be cargo or passenger for at least 50+ years. The amount of development in both onboard and ground systems is just mind-boggling!!

Posted by: Tom Kovac | August 8, 2017 12:33 PM    Report this comment

Someone should ask an insurance rep what they think of pilotless airliners. After all they are the ones who will pay out any claims when one crashes into that grade school that was in session.

Posted by: matthew wagner | August 8, 2017 6:04 PM    Report this comment

Now that most of the public has warmed up to the idea of self-driving cars, self-flying airplanes are all but inevitable.

They will start by flying cargo. After the 5th accident of human-piloted passenger airplane, where NTSB report points out the human error as a cause, the people that grew accustomed to self-driving cars will say "gee, its not 20th century anymore--isn't it time to switch to something safer"? And suddenly having a fleet of robo-airliners will be a marketing advantage.

Sully's landing on the Hudson is just another if-statement in the airplane decision making algorithms. Now that this "test case" exists, it can be incorporated into all robo-airliners with perfect recall.

I love flying airplanes, but as a software engineer I also see what is coming.

Posted by: Karol Zadora | August 8, 2017 9:22 PM    Report this comment

"Someone should ask an insurance rep what they think of pilotless airliners"

The bigger question as has been touched on is how reliable will these machines be?
Insurance companies look at risk and the amount they have to pay out in claims.

IF and that is a big if, pilotless aircraft have less accidents then their human driven counterparts (notice I said less accidents not zero accidents) I think the insurance companies will be on board.

Posted by: Juan Dickerson | August 8, 2017 9:27 PM    Report this comment

To err is human, to really screw things up requires a computer.

Posted by: Steve Rush | August 9, 2017 4:06 PM    Report this comment

The fact that insurance cost for single pilot jet ops is so much higher than a 2 pilot crew kind of tells me what insurance companies may think of pilotless airliners. The military and civilian (US customs) accident record with UAV's is not exactly spotless either. I wonder if any of those crashed UAV's were covered by insurance.

Posted by: matthew wagner | August 9, 2017 5:33 PM    Report this comment

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