Will A Robot Steal Your Pilot Job?

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I’m sure I’m not the only one hearing this question: A friend or relative reports that a son or daughter is interested in a piloting career and, well, you’re a pilot, what’s your advice? I field this query carefully.

While I think the profession definitely has legs, my concern is that in the next two decades—if not sooner—automated and autonomous flight will have developed sufficiently to put downward pressure on both wages and the number and kind of flying jobs available. So if a kid asks the question now and he or she is 18, 20 years from now will be 2037 and our would-be careerist will be 38—not even mid-career. Who among us thinks aviation and especially for-hire flying will look like it does now?

I’ve been interested in this for awhile and I’m currently reading Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History by Thomas Rid. The author quotes an early cybernetic researcher, Norbert Wiener, as having written this of emerging automation in the late 1950s: “It is perfectly clear that this will produce an unemployment situation in comparison with which … the depression of the thirties will seem a pleasant joke.”

He overstated the case, right? So far, yes. But the truth is that majority of the jobs that evaporated from the industrial Midwest didn’t go to China, they were phased out in favor of automation. No one knows with a high degree of confidence what will happen in the next 20 years, or even 10. But companies in the aviation business have to plan for a future they can’t predict, so I asked various people in the industry when flight autonomy or automation will noticeably impact the workforce. Here’s what they told me:

You are asking a tough question. My quick answer is that we are at least 10 to 15 years away before there is true autonomous capability in manned critical aircraft. The key is how quickly the software can develop to effectively deal with crisis situations in a truly dynamic way. Although machines can now beat us in strategy games such as chess and Go, it is because they can run the simulations so fast they examine all alternatives. 

However, speed is relative as they still take time to reach the correct move. Such time is not available in a complex situation such as an aircraft moving at 500 knots. The best example I can give is Sully. The textbook said turn, Sully said glide and land straight ahead. 

It is definitely coming, but I still think it will not impact pilots for another decade plus. One side thing for me is does this impact GA (piston range) where people fly because they want to have some involvement in pointing the plane? Conversely, does it revive the industry by taking the low-annual-flight-time pilot risk out of the equation and allow more people to fly because it is one button from start to landing?

Rhett Ross
Continental Motors

I guess the answer would be this: When do you believe people will be transported autonomously? While the technical ability will be there in three to five years, it still would be another five for regulatory changes, so a total of 10 years.

Then many years to get people comfortable with the concept. So the long answer is 15 years at the earliest, but my real belief is never. Looking at population growth, air-carrier capacity, people’s acceptance of new modes of transportation, it all adds up to airlines that will need pilots now and into the future. It will not be a career in danger of shrinking. Add the pilot retirement problem and the next 15 years is boom time for new pilot careers.

Jack Pelton
EAA Chairman and former Cessna CEO

I think it will not impact pilot hiring and if I have to guess, I think, it will actually favorably impact pilot hiring. Autonomous flight capability is going to not just extend by a little, but by a lot utilization of aircraft, and GA in particular.

Technology is a way to reach out to masses and make something for a few available to more people. Our aviation system is still qualified by expertise. With autonomous flight capability, the pilot skills will be reduced to more monitoring rather than piloting, thus opening aviation to a much larger variety of candidates.

It is a huge opportunity for aviation. And commercial airlines, particular low-cost companies, have clearly understood that pilots are no longer the highest compensation in the salary scheme. Good or bad, we will leave an era for aviators to flyers with safer and simpler aircraft to fly.

Nic Chabbert

Behind the curtain, aircraft manufacturers are working on a single-pilot cockpit where the airplane can be controlled from the ground and only in case of malfunction does the pilot of the plane interfere.

Basically the flight will be autonomous and I expect this to happen in the next five to six years for freighters. For GA, autonomous flying capable aircraft are mainly a safety factor.

Christian Dries
Diamond Aircraft Austria

Not a clue, I'm afraid.

Richard Aboulafia
Teal Group

We have just been having this discussion inside Lycoming. As you know, we’re part of Textron Systems and the unmanned unit supplies UAV/RPV system soup-to-nuts, meaning from the aircraft operator to the ground station to the aircraft itself for multiple platforms (Aerosonde, Gray Eagle, Shadow, Orion).

You phrased the question using the words “autonomous flight capability.” I’d say “autonomous” is a pretty expansive and broad definition. That will be awhile. A better word may be “manned-unmanned teaming” or “augmented flight capability” that enables fewer (or lesser skilled) pilots to control the aircraft. Or one pilot to control multiple aircraft. The augmented situation is happening now (and has been happening) with flight engineers and navigators no longer in the cockpit and operators (not pilots) controlling UAVs with waypoint instructions. 

For the broader impact, the maturity of the military-use systems is at a point now where (my opinion) you are not talking about reliability problems with the technology. So technology readiness level is not the inhibitor. What will pace the impact will be the acceptance by people of people not being in the cockpit, whether by politicians, the FAA, the pilot unions or the passengers buying tickets. 

If there are people in the aircraft – whether military or civilian – they will want to see a warm body that they think is the pilot who did the walk-around to ensure the aircraft was safe to fly. But in 10 to 20 years, you may not see two people up front and you may not see multiple crews on long-haul flights. The skilled pilot will be engaged, whether from the cockpit or the ground remotely, when an unanticipated event occurs that the augmented flight toolkit was not programmed to handle.

So to answer your question, I think it’s happening now. But it’s not driverless-car autonomy. It’s humans augmented by machines to control complex equipment with simpler commands. Like Sulu controlling the Enterprise single handedly versus a hundred engineers launching Apollo.

Michael Kraft
Lycoming Engines

Maybe I am really old school, but I can’t see that happening in my lifetime. They are doing autonomous bus trials in Germany in 2022, I believe, which is not far away at all and seems harder to me than flying an airplane airport to airport.

But aviation is so conservative. I can certainly see autonomous flight becoming more mainstream, but to launch an airliner full of pax on a regular basis, I think we are very far away. That it would impact pilot hiring, I would expect at least two to three decades, if not more.

But then we all thought glass cockpits in new aircraft would be just an option.

Peter Maurer
Diamond Aircraft Canada

I think it is still many years off as people still feel that machines break. So until they have many years of problem-free operation, they will want a human in the cockpit. Even drones are still flown by a human at this point. Minimum 15 years. Probably 20-plus.

Jim Allmon
Blackhawk Modifications

The short answer is no time soon. The general public may be comfortable with a small quadcopter delivering packages, but they will be far less willing to accept large aircraft without a trained and qualified pilot at the controls.

George Perry,
Senior Vice President
AOPA’s Air Safety Institute

Comments (33)

Yes, and not just because they do not get suicidal or drunk. They are also safer in everyday operations. High speed trains have the capacity to run on their own. If that capacity had been used the last two high speed train accidents would not have happened. In both cases the drivers forgot to break before leaving high speed lines and entering curves -- one in Span because he was on his mobile phone trying to sort out leave dates, and the other in France because he had invited friends and their children in to the cabin and was distracted by the hubbub.
At the moment planes require two pilots to avoid such scenarios, but the Air France tragedy shows this is no guarantee -- when the unexpected happens instead of digital logic taking over, haul back the stick panic ruled.
Never mind, there will still be GA aircraft, just as there are still steam locos built and driven by enthusiasts, in spite of the pain of shovelling coal and jets of scalding steam.

Posted by: John Patson | January 2, 2017 3:03 AM    Report this comment

Navigators were lost to automated navigation, flight engineers to computers and eventually the SIC will be an automated system. We are moving that way. My geezer generation will not be too accepting of the change, however, the present high school students will not even consider it a safety issue to have only one or no pilot on board. How close are we? If I knew that answer I would be at the Lottery store buying the next big winner instead of sitting here babbling on the keyboard. The next generation military fighters will most likely be RPV.

John is correct, the Cubs, Champs, Citabrias and all of the fun airplanes will be around. I think that the next gen trainers will be limping along as well. So when it comes to automated cockpits commercial and recreational flying will split direction. Just as sail power is not practical for commerce, sailing is still a tremendously popular (almost addictive) endeavor. Maybe as the numbers of pilots decrease the numbers of bureaucrats in the FAA will decrease; nope never happen.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | January 2, 2017 8:20 AM    Report this comment

Rolls-Royce may have the future in this area - just in the field of ocean going vessels! They are proposing "robot" ships to carry cargo across oceans - but observed and guided by a human in a command center. This person may be controlling a string of ships many miles apart, focusing his/her attention on those incoming to harbors, those departing harbors (maybe the harbor pilot does this initially?) and checking in with those enroute, Of course ships going less than 30 kts are far different from aircraft going 400+ Kts, but this begins to put a human in the loop. And onboard such an aircraft - one with a ground based guide - you could still hear " This is the captain Rob Ot speaking - We are expecting a bit of turbulence - please fasten your seatbelt and remain in your seats until I turn off the warning light." Thank you for flying with NothingCanGoWrong-GoWrong-GoWrong airways."

Posted by: d newill | January 2, 2017 8:37 AM    Report this comment

Could a computer safely fly a commercial airplane without any pilots aboard? 99+% of the time ... yes. Will an intransigent and omnipotent FAA -- who worries if I have acne or a hangnail -- ever allow it ... unlikely. Will passengers of any generation now alive and breathing accept it in numbers large enough to make it economically feasible ... unlikely ... even though some'll think it's "cool."

If a pilot STILL has to somehow be 'in the loop' -- even if they're not in the cockpit -- to deal with emergency or unforeseen situations, what's the point? Have we now condescended into splitting economic hairs THAT far? I sure hope not.

Save for the dearth of eligible and qualified pilots creeping into every segment of aviation these days, I fail to understand why eliminating ALL pilots from a cockpit is a desirable end goal. All it'll take is one or two crashes and the idea will go away pronto. The insurance companies will see to that. Does anyone here think that we should trust a machine to fly an A380 load of pax?

Just because we CAN doesn't mean we SHOULD. Just because it makes economic sense doesn't mean it makes practical sense. Just because we're capable of designing such complex systems of systems doesn't mean we should employ them where the safety of human life is at stake. You cannot write a software subroutine for the unforeseen. Watch the accidental first flight of the F-16A during what was supposed to be a high speed taxi run at Edwards AFB in 1974 and you'll see why at least one pilot will always be aboard. The headless Tesla driver would likely agree ...

Posted by: Larry Stencel | January 2, 2017 9:34 AM    Report this comment

Given the non-pilot's not irrational fear of being several miles above the ground in a small tube, I suspect passengers will always want someone up front that has just as much to lose as they do, should something go wrong. (Same for those Citation users that hire pilots to fly them. They can afford the insurance (pilot), so they will pay for it.)

But both will also want the automated "hand on the brake" that was missing on the two train crashes mentioned above to save the dayt should things go wrong. Not to mention that automation will eventually end the days of hijacking forever. The passenger airplane future is one-man-in-the-cockpit.

Freight is another matter. People won't care, so long as the plane can't land on top of them. That may push freight airports further away from the city (no unmanned freighters into San Diego, for example).

So, yes, there will still be jobs for pilots, but they will no longer be at the top of the food chain for the airlines.

Posted by: William Pace | January 2, 2017 9:56 AM    Report this comment

Two things that will likely inhibit automated flights...

1. Liability - think about how expensive these "untested" approaches to non-piloted flights would be. Trial lawyers would be lined up 5 deep waiting for the first accident and insurance companies would know that. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) tried autonomous trains in the SFO Bay Area and gave it up when a train failed to stop at the last station (Freemont, as I recall) in the 80's. They found the savings are "false".

2. Alternative technology advancements - it might not be automation at all that changes the game. It could be a technology breakthrough we can't predict - hyper loop, virtual reality, teleportation. All these dictate that people need to be flexible and follow the jobs. The current millennial will have 5 careers in their working lives. If you train as a pilot and automation does happen, then shift to being a highly trained UAV technician. Don't forget - technology advancement is speeding up exponentially - it may be nearly impossible to predict what work life will look like in 20 years. The machines may be running everything and we all live in a socialistic state of unemployment. I think the rudder should be - do what you love and stay adaptable.

Posted by: William McGlynn | January 2, 2017 10:44 AM    Report this comment

Ethical dilemma. As an autonomous airplane hits birds, engines and systems fail, gliding down a city, a shopping mall is straight in its path and a maximum security jail is to the right. What is the ethical correct decision for the autonomous airplane? Self destruct?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 2, 2017 10:46 AM    Report this comment

Now I read where DARPA has awarded a $35M contract named ALIAS -- Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System -- to Sikorsky to come up with an easily installable / removable system which will automate co-pilot functions across 80% of it's DoD aircraft types. It's goal is to provide for "reduced crew operations." Phase III of the program will actually test the system in individual aircraft types.

First the flight engineer ... then the navigator ... and now the co-pilot. Enough already. I wonder, will this ALIAS system be inflatable? Is it a second generaton Otto ?

Maybe the answer to the aviation vocation question is ... "No ... get a AA in burger flipping or repair of the automated ordering systems for same at the local junior college.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | January 2, 2017 12:03 PM    Report this comment

I had read this posting before retiring last night and my subconscious, in one of those typical rambling dreams cobbled together from unrelated thought trains of the previous day, included autonomous vehicle operation as a recurring element - gee, thanks, Paul.

Anyway, it seemed I was traveling in my motor home, which was at least semi-autonomous (as well as being considerably larger). Throughout the dream I was distracted from various other dream scenarios by recurring crisis that required me to rush forward and attempt to recover from imminent disaster.

So if my own subconscious is typical, I'd say the schedule for full adoption hinges not on technology development but on the need to gain the acceptance of the inner human. Likely this means it will come on a generational timescale.

Posted by: John Wilson | January 2, 2017 12:11 PM    Report this comment

How ironic... Lawyers and insurance companies brought aviation to it's knees and put it where it is today. The future of unmanned transportation is in the lawyers hands. Put yourself in a court room listening to the defense of an unmanned vehicle accident.

The real question is: How can the legal industry balance profits and blame the best from an accident?

My answer is: The legal industry will require a warm body in every vehicle, freight and/or passenger transport.

The legal industry will require a different skill set to sit in a cockpit and monitor operations and ensure the human factor back-up.

Posted by: Klaus Marx | January 2, 2017 12:58 PM    Report this comment

I'd say the schedule for full adoption hinges not on technology development but on the need to gain the acceptance of the inner human."

Brilliant, John. This is how revolutions are started - or not. The eternal play betwixt the group and the individual. I'm all in for the latter, let's keep pilots employed and flying. #deflateOtto.

Posted by: Dave Miller | January 2, 2017 1:57 PM    Report this comment

I can just imagine the flight crew/mission boards in USAF Ops Squadrons
Pilot: SMITH
CoPilot: ALIAS 21 (they'll have to number 'em so they can pin the error on the right ALIAS ! )

And, the Personnel Equipment Sections will have to build new storage bins for the inflatable ALIAS'

At least they won't be eating box lunches but ... I wonder ... how will a pilot know if he has the right ALIAS for the airplane / mission he's flying ?? How will the pilot know if his ALIAS is current? Nuthin but more questions :-)

Posted by: Larry Stencel | January 2, 2017 2:30 PM    Report this comment

Keep your eyes on the insurance companies, when the statistics show an automated pilot error rate is less than the human pilot error rate, insurance rates will push the warm body out of the command seat.

When an airline goes to court and has to admit they didn't have automation 4.0, they will be held liable, much like the healthcare industry, if you don't meet the standard of care you are guilty of malpractice.

Posted by: Richard Montague | January 2, 2017 7:03 PM    Report this comment


Larry said: "If a pilot STILL has to somehow be 'in the loop' -- even if they're not in the cockpit -- to deal with emergency or unforeseen situations, what's the point?" Larry is absolutely right about this - the idea of "remote-controlled" aircraft is silly. Latency issues alone render it a non-starter for non-battlefield conditions.

Then Larry said: "You cannot write a software subroutine for the unforeseen." In this regard, Larry is dead wrong. It's okay, he has ample company. But his statement about software is no more valid than would be one that asserted "You cannot design an airplane (or a lawn chair) for the unforeseen." There's a big difference between "I didn't think that would happen" and "I didn't anticipate that the laws of physics were going to change in mid-flight." If something CAN happen, eventually it WILL happen. But that diesn't mean that software designers need to plan for every possible COMBINATION of events (as oftentimes has been asserted in this space in the past). Humans don't operate that way; properly-designed software doesn't, either. This ain't that hard. It's about hierarchy-of-values; mission objectives; impediments; available resources; palette of circumstantially-available options. Keep it simple; just three "modes" (on-the-ground, not-in-motion; on-the-ground, in-motion; airborne).

Rafael said: "As an autonomous airplane hits birds, engines and systems fail, gliding down a city, a shopping mall is straight in its path and a maximum security jail is to the right. What is the ethical correct decision for the autonomous airplane? Self destruct?" Good question, Raf. The answer can be found in the Maslow's Hierarchy of a properly-designed autonomous system (example shown is for Airborne Mode):
1. Preserve the vehicle.
2. Preserve the occupants.
3. Preserve others not aboard.
It's not like people haven't (or won't) think about this stuff. It's important.

(Continued below)

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | January 3, 2017 12:09 PM    Report this comment


William said: "...I suspect passengers will always want someone up front that has just as much to lose as they do, should something go wrong... But both will also want the automated "hand on the brake" that was missing on the two train crashes mentioned above to save the day should things go wrong." But these are mutually exclusive desires. With apologies to Rod Serling, consider the following: Is it true that whether it's a human pilot or some edification of "George" (or "HAL"), someone/something has to be "in charge?" Most of the uninitiated-in-the-art envision an implementation in which:
1. "George" does the flying until it screws up, at which point some heroic (and clearly indispensible) human comes to the rescue. OR
2. Some human does the flying until s/he screws up, at which point the otherwise subordinate "George" comes to the rescue.
Dueling "pilots," anyone?

"Autonomous" means "not subject to outside assistance/interference." "Semi-autonomous" is like "sort-of-pregnant." It's an oxymoron. Just like the "who's/what's in charge" example cited above. You simply cannot have it both ways. Once you get over that, this gets a lot easier. How will you recognize the autonomous aircraft on the ramp? It will be the one without a cockpit.

Just as autonomous cars will make their street debut with Uber and their like, I suspect that autonomous passenger-carrying aircraft will make their debut in a role that will look a lot like present-day Part 135 PAX operations. This will be followed by owner-operated instances. For big iron, I suspect that FedEx and UPS will lead the charge (packages don't get to object to changes-of-paradigm). Once the airlines (and the insurance carriers) see 787-class vehicles safely plying the skies sans pilots, they'll clamor to adopt the inevitable.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | January 3, 2017 12:10 PM    Report this comment

The next 5-10 years in the aviation world will be very interesting for sure. There are some great opportunities for enhancements and improvements to how aircraft operate and the applications. However, we are essentially we are taking an air travel/transport system that has been in place for over 50 years and radically changing it. The changes and alterations that would have to occur in ATC alone are daunting let alone something automated like a drone falling out of the sky and hurting someone. I'm sure the legal industry is keeping a close eye on all of the liability potential with these changes. Joe Braddock / Southeast Aerospace / Melbourne, FL

Posted by: Joe Braddock | January 4, 2017 11:26 AM    Report this comment

Instead of being know as Ambulance Chasers, the lawyers will be known as Drone Chasers.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | January 4, 2017 6:19 PM    Report this comment

Autonomous commercial certification. Is the FAA ready for this? Part 25 rewrite?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 5, 2017 12:30 AM    Report this comment

Raf: The FAA still isn't "ready" for autonomous toy drones. If they were, they would have appropriate regulations in place. Instead, line-of-sight "remote-control" is the Law of the Land. Is it any wonder that Amazon et al are doing their development off-shore?

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | January 5, 2017 5:40 AM    Report this comment

Agree that the precise path ahead is difficult to to predict, but the general course seems fairly clear to me. I doubt that artificial intelligence will be the limiting factor. As to the comfort of having a human in the cockpit, I'm just scanning today's headlines...A380 Flight Crew Nearly Incapacitated by Fumes...Heavily Drunk Pilots Arrested...Three Killed in Midair...

Yeah, comforting.

Self-driving cars and trucks are full steam ahead. There will certainly be mishaps, but as someone put it, all they have to do is be better than humans. In cars, that's a pretty low bar.

The bar is much higher in commercial aircraft, but once people have gotten used to the idea of automation in ground transport, they'll be more inclined to accept it in aircraft. One commenter above doubted the economic incentives, but think about how razor-thin the margins already are when they're charging for luggage and feeding you a packet of peanuts on a packed-to-the-gills five-hour flight. And it's not just the pilot salaries. It's benefits, and scheduling, and sick days, and commuting, and HR staff, and training facilities, and dispatchers, etc.

My guess would be the freighters will go to a single-pilot cockpit first. Give that a bit, and an airline will follow. Then the rest will have to follow. And by the time that all works through the system, we'll probably be at a point where no one will think to question whether automation is superior.

Posted by: Brian Peterson | January 5, 2017 8:07 AM    Report this comment

"And by the time that all works through the system, we'll probably be at a point where no one will think to question whether automation is superior." That is until there is a big smoldering hole in the ground. Then some clown in government will come up with dozens of meaningless regulations in a knee jerk reaction. I remember my dad telling me of having to have a person walk ahead of an automobile at night, lest one spook the horses. We have come a long way in those 100+ years.

For many reasons, we as a society have become so risk adverse that we expect everything in our lives to be 100% fool proof. The problem is that we have some very clever fools among us.

I spent most of my engineering career working with manned and unmanned space systems. Even with all of the double and triple redundancies, we still had failures. We did our best to have no failures but "stuff" happens. The cost of building and testing the systems was well, out of this world. When scaled up, costs will come down but will still be a major factor. I think that the automotive industry interest in automation will drive the prices.

I agree that once the traveling public accepts the automation on the ground, they will have no reason to doubt it will work in the air. As systems are developed, we will see interesting and un-thought of risk mitigation strategies and systems. Who would have thought that the toy industry would lead the affordable RPV development and implementation process?

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | January 5, 2017 10:56 AM    Report this comment

YARS: Is expecting autonomous airplanes, or automobiles, to be safe 100 percent of the time unrealistic? If unrealistic, is the present accident fatality rate acceptable?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 5, 2017 12:27 PM    Report this comment

Raf: it's unrealistic to expect complete safety in any activity. It's also foolish to make the perfect the enemy of the very very good.
The present accident rate is not acceptable to me, but we seem to have reached a plateau. Autonomous vehicles should be able to deliver at least an order of magnitude of improvement. That, plus permitting non-pilot access to GA, comprise the bulk of its appeal to me. I wouldn't pursue it just for its associated cost savings - but I'm not an accountant.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | January 5, 2017 12:49 PM    Report this comment

For a clear example, Leo, one has to look no further than the negative impact of the Congressional 'Colgan rule' on the airline industry and the necessity of possessing an ATP prior to such employment. I have a friend who gave up his aviation business over it. "Meaningless regulations in a knee jerk reaction" after a 'smoking hole' ... I guess. The mythical 'they' will be slow to codify the rules to assimilate such an idea up front but will join the lawyer vultures circling that hole when TSO'ed "inflatable Otto" filled with noble gases ain't up to the task.

Anyone who has spent any time doing reliability engineering knows that the reliability of any system (or system of systems) is directly and exponentially proportional to the parts (systems) count. And, the Failure Modes, Effects and Corrective Actions (FMECA) analysis becomes -- likewise -- ever more complex. Before you said it, I wondered who's gonna pay for all the engineering costs associated with certifying such systems. Look no further than how long it took for the "final rules" for NextGen ADS-B to solidify ... and they're still changing (and fighting over it). And THAT was for just a fancy transponder with a few bits thrown in for good measure. Inflatable Otto will be a helluva lot more complex.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | January 5, 2017 12:52 PM    Report this comment

"Inflatable Otto" likely will be developed and certified offshore. The FAA has neither the desire nor the skills to do that job. The 21st century has passed them by, as did much of the second half of the 20th century.
ADSB is a GREAT example. Shoulda done it with cell-phone technology, in one-tenth of the time, and at one-one-hundreth of the cost. Not coincidentally, that would have provided a platform for real-time software upgrades, among other features.
ADSB reminds me of MLS, every time I think about it.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | January 5, 2017 1:09 PM    Report this comment

Ah, they said the same thing when monoplanes replaced biplanes, jets replaced pistons, VORs replaced LF, GPS replaced VORs and on and on.

The argument then was, but this time, it's different. But it never is. Ever. Progress is relentless.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 5, 2017 1:18 PM    Report this comment

"...permitting non-pilot access to GA, comprise the bulk of [autonomous aircraft] appeal to me"

Except we have quite a long way to go before the cost of such a complex flight computer will be available to common folk like me.

"Not coincidentally, [cell-phone technology ADS-B] would have provided a platform for real-time software upgrades, among other features."

I don't see that as a good thing. When was the last time a software update that was forced upon you worked out without any issues? My cell phone still has issues from 5 updates ago. The last thing I would want is a real-time software "upgrade" to my avionics.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 5, 2017 2:15 PM    Report this comment

Paul, progress is relentless but in the FA bureaucrats even more so. As was previously discussed, the Chinese are into this big time. After all the "toy" drones came out of China. I agree that the real developments will occur off shore unless there is a major shake up in the FAA. I am not going to hold my breath on that one.

Larry been there and done that on FMEAs CILs etc. You are correct. The automotive industry has evolved into a very sophisticated and reliable one. It started with the little upstarts at Toyota and Nissan. Today, every company is on board with the program. Why? The mighty market will not tolerate problems.

Yars, the only difference between ADS-B and MLS is we are forced to pay for ADS-B equipment if we want to play in the system.

The cockpits of future airliners will most likely be dark and void of humanoid life forms.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | January 5, 2017 2:19 PM    Report this comment

We're not talking about stupid telephone apps created by nitwit millenials who think that bugs are an acceptable part of life. That problem isn't the means of transmission - it's the abysmal quality of their code. And this technology will be a lot less expensive than you think. We're not talking about Artificial Intelligence running on some super-computer. Just an embedded Expert System.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | January 5, 2017 4:06 PM    Report this comment

The future isn't dark cockpits. It's NO cockpits. And no windscreens, etc.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | January 5, 2017 4:09 PM    Report this comment

Yars, correct. The equipment bay or FCS bay will probably be the term. For redundancy there may be forward, mid and aft. Somehow, I have a feeling that the PR folks will have a faux door and sign reading "Cockpit - Authorized Personnel Only" where once the real cockpit door was located.

If you think of some of the aircraft accidents that have resulted from code errors, omissions and or failures the public reactions have not been as drastic as one may have thought. Perhaps it is because they are relatively rare and widely space in time. Lawyers make a bundle, the press gets to fill 30 minutes of air time per day and then moves on to the next crisis. Only if airplane start falling out of the sky on a regular basis will there be more than a fleeting interest.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | January 5, 2017 6:24 PM    Report this comment

PB: Do you keep a running record of the number of responses to individual blogs by Title and date? I'm curious. It's kinda funny to see how many comments flow in for some and how few for others.

You're over 30 on this one ... and we still can't agree on whether pilots are an endangered species and machines are gonna take over the world, if ATC controllers will now have to become backup pilots using their iPads or if the flying public will reject the idea in favor of biplanes.

Maybe this is an idea for a future blog?

Posted by: Larry Stencel | January 5, 2017 7:27 PM    Report this comment

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, "making predictions is hard, especially about the future". According to the so called experts, men and machines will reach singularity somewhere around 2040 - some say as early as 2030. If that is the case, then WE may be "Otto". Just climb into the cockpit, plug yourself in, a la The Matrix, and you fly while the expert system feeds you the data. Not a particularly pleasant possibility, but a possibility.

Posted by: John McNamee | January 6, 2017 12:03 PM    Report this comment

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