Airbus Autonomous Taxi, Takeoff And Landing Project Reaches Milestone


Airbus has announced that its Autonomous Taxi, Take-Off and Landing (ATTOL) project has reached a significant milestone with the successful completion of its first fully automatic vision-based takeoff. The system being tested is designed to use image recognition technology installed on the aircraft to navigate and detect obstacles during an autonomous takeoff. The test included eight takeoffs conducted over a period of four and a half hours at France’s Toulouse-Blagnac airport (TLS). A crew of two pilots and three engineers were onboard.

“The aircraft performed as expected during these milestone tests,” said Airbus test pilot Yann Beaufils. “While completing alignment on the runway, waiting for clearance from air traffic control, we engaged the autopilot. We moved the throttle levers to the takeoff setting and we monitored the aircraft. It started to move and accelerate automatically maintaining the runway centerline, at the exact rotation speed as entered in the system. The nose of the aircraft began to lift up automatically to take the expected takeoff pitch value and a few seconds later we were airborne.”

Airbus launched ATTOL in June 2018 with the stated goal of understanding “the impact of autonomy on aircraft,” but emphasized that it believes autonomous technologies are best used to support pilots. According to the company, the project’s next steps will be automatic vision-based taxi and landing sequences, which it expects to begin testing in mid-2020.

Video: Airbus
Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. “…but [Airbus] emphasized that it believes autonomous technologies are best used to support pilots.”

    A lovely platitude, but an oxymoron.

    By definition, an AUTONOMOUS control system has NO provision for real-time intervention from external sources. That’s why it’s “autonomous,” i.e., “in charge.”

    The regular abuse of the English language – especially by people who know better – is a travesty. A purposeful travesty.

  2. I think that Airbus means “practically autonomous”. Maybe 100 years from now autonomous will be autonomous. I hope. In the meantime, automated stick and rudder systems under a team consisting of a pilot and a service dog will be in charge. 🙂 Maybe because Airbus understands that absolute aircraft autonomy is not yet technically and financially feasible. You’ve got to be practically autonomous becoming before self-governing. Or crawl before you walk.

  3. If anyone doubts for a minute that Airbus will do what it possibly can to get pilot salaries to be a thing of the past, is sadly mistaken.

  4. Just reading these comments leaves me bummed. There’s something not right about all of this. Not sure what it is and it’s not because I’m old. My instincts rarely fail me.

    • It’s easy to get bummed reading comments on this site. Most of the comments are very negative. We see a lot of technological progress in many areas and most people here only know how to criticize these achievements. It’s no wonder that other countries are kicking our ass when it comes to innovation.

  5. Tom, there is nothing wrong with helping bean-counters running highly profitable businesses.

    Imagine all these pesky, bloated pilot salaries and benefit packages would eventually be gone. No more stupid crew arguments, route- bidding, seniority crappola and all that stupid jazz. No more complaints about technical issues, no more judgement calls or go-arounds at $3,000 dollars a minute. Delays? Forget it.

    Shareholders delight!

    Added benefit: Human/ Pilot error gets eliminated from countless NTSB reports and the cream-topping with cherry on top will be less resistance for knee-jerk/ overregulation. Just program the damn computer. The FAA will just have rich people to get rid off, you know, these pesky private pilots and business aviation people, catering to the rich! Then, when the airspace can be rented to drone operations, thkngs will be good and provide perfect ROI’s.

    If things go sideways and a few hundred body-bags get filled, it will be no more than typing the word “glitch” or “malfunction”. No more sitting there, wondering if Captain Kangaroo and FO Smith where (1) intoxicated (2) frustrated or (3) both.

    Whats not to love about this super-great, fully automated future we are building? Can we have autonomous flight attendants, too? What prevents this overrated service from being transformed to e-powered carts on rails? Do we need juice pushers to make 40-75000 dollars per year? I mean, its a pretty straight line from the galley all the way to the pointy end.

    Want food? Push this button, insert credit card, push OK. The robotic screen will provide a warm smile and move on. “We appreciate your business! Thank you.” (Fish: $49.99, Pasta: 39,99, Soda: $9,99, Water: $9,99)

    Some hospitals in Germany use fully autonomous food transporters to cut losses between kitchen and station. Extra slice of bread? Sorry. Extra slice of cheese? Nope. Extra anything? Lay down, shut up, the answer is NO.

    Yes, these systems costs truckloads of money for installation and maintanance, but the 5 pesky salaries could be replaced by a machine that doesn’t have sick & vacation pay and no middle fingers to extend.

    And we can fundraise and fund R&D with free money for all who get in on the ground floor. The next generation of billionaires needs to be produced.

    • I’ve already imagined pretty much everything you have presented and I have come to the conclusion, there’s something not right where this is all heading. One thing is for sure, it’s not flying anymore, it’s transporting. How boring.
      Throw all the books out. It doesn’t matter anymore. You don’t need to know how an airplane flies or why. You don’t need to know anything about physics, weather, or even communication for that matter. You can be dumb as a rock to fly an airplane. All you need to know is how to manage. An event happens and you just watch the machine make whatever corrective action it has been programmed to make. If it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, you just wait for the next programmed action. So what’s the point of having cockpit managers? They’re not going to be pilots. They’re not going to be trained to be proficient in flying, they don’t have to be. They must maintain proficiency in managing something, what, I don’t know.

  6. YARS, What is your extended opinion on “Way of the future” autonomous aircraft and its organizational structure? How would it be a 100 years from now?

    • Raf:
      Just got a text: tomorrow’s basketball game is postponed, due to the WX forecast.
      Therefore, I shall endeavor to hit the keyboard. I’m planning on a 3-parter: what is it; how would you do it; why would you do it (or not). “It” being a true autonomous aircraft control system.
      Sounds like Part 2 should address your question. Forbearance.

  7. I think that the key to all this automation is that the “Aircraft Systems Managers” will be safely on the ground in a call center in India or Pakistan or maybe the Philippines. Why risk a good call center employee by putting his/her fragile body in the automated airplane? When things do go wrong, no worry the software will either A take care of it or B crash followed by the big aluminum and composite tube and all souls on board. Flying is a risk, business is a risk, life is a risk. The corporate bean counter and lawyers will just have to decide on how much they are willing to endure to save a few bucks.

    NTSB will have the standard catch phrase “automation error” or loss of program sequencing” to describe such incidents.

    BTY Yars is right there is no semi autonomous just like there is no semi dead.

  8. I think the nagging feeling that Tom C has (and his insides serve him well) is that of the standardized mediocrity that comes with any process or product that is automated (or at least rigidly controlled). One example is that fine organization, MacDonald’s. They don’t make the worst hamburger in the world, but they certainly don’t make the best. However, whether you go to one around the corner or in Timbuktu, you’re pretty sure you’ll get the same burger (regional differences aside – Rome has a pretty good pasta bar in their MacDonald’s).
    Another example is the mindless rush to make cars autonomous. Those vehicles won’t be the worst drivers on the road, but they certainly won’t be the best. They will be stubbornly average, and based on the way drivers behave in the Greater Metropolitan DC area, it will be a frustrating experience since all drivers think they’re better than everyone else, which is why they deserve to be in front of you. Your automated Camry driver won’t be programmed to make sure you’re ahead of that snob in his automated Lexus.
    Aircraft with automated piloting will only go to standardized airports, that serve standardized cities. They won’t do the slam dunk approach at St Barts Airport or the uphill landing at Courchevel in the French Alps. That would take too much programming for too small a market.
    Standardized automation also sets the present in stone and rejects the future. A system that is kept constant is by definition obsolete the minute it’s implemented. But the cost of switching becomes so high, even small innovations are rejected as not worth either the cost or the risk. And so humanity is stuck for decades flying Cessna 172s, eating terrible hamburgers, and waiting at their desks for yet another update of Windows to be installed on their computers. We accept mediocrity because the risk of change appears too great.
    Societies advance by those at the edge of the bell curve, not those in the middle. Mediocrity is not only boring, it’s self-defeating.

    • Commercial air travel has finally achieved what the pioneers of aviation always wanted.
      This is the crown jewel of their dream to make public flying into a non-event; like catching a bus.
      Mediocrity is proof of success.

    • You’re dead on. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Mediocrity, it’s everywhere. Ok, I know I’m going to sound old outdated and unwilling to accept change, but, I’m not. It is what it is. Our entire society has bowed down to the security of mediocrity. No risk, no blame, no responsibility, no failure, no feelings of failure, no desire to try again, no desire to improve and no fun. Everything vanilla with no sugar.
      Yes, there are pockets of individuals who will not accept mediocrity, however, that’s not the norm. It used to be just the opposite. Mediocrity used to be scorned. Now its taught. What perverse times we live in.

  9. About 40 seconds into the video, the copilot raises the gear. I guess there is still one job the computer just can’t do?