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.