Emirates Chief Says AI Won’t Replace Pilots


The head of Emirates says his customers may never be ready to trust their lives to ChatGPT, but artificial intelligence will likely be along for the ride in every flight deck. Tim Clark told CNBC that single-pilot operations might be a possibility, but he doubts passengers will accept a pilotless flight deck. “You might see a one-pilot aircraft,” Clark said, adding that it will likely be a long time coming. “Could the aircraft be flown on a fully automated basis?” Clark said. “Yes it could, technology is right up there now, [but] there’ll always be somebody on the flight deck in my view.”

Clark said AI is a powerful new tool and he expects the industry to embrace it. “A lot of people are concerned about what AI should and shouldn’t be doing … but if you’re in business and you’ve got something as powerful as this coming along and you’re very processes driven, manpower intensive, you’ve got to take time to look at what this could do to improve what you do,” he said.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Screen writers yesterday said AI is replacing them. A rapid change coming in all fields. No job is a guarantee much anymore. My nephew, and he shouldn’t be doing it, puts his Tesla on programed auto to destination and basically just sits back and plays with his iPhone until it gets there and parks.

  2. So what would the all knowing “AI” do when bird strikes flames out both engines at low altitude, or an un-contained engine failure cut electrical or hydraulic lines requiring throttles to be used as the only flight controls? it wouldn’t turn out well.

    There are other examples of near disasters where the actions of an experienced flight crew averted catastrophe.

    With the 737 Max disaster Boeing and the industry learned a very hard lesson in trying to bypass a well trained pilots skill by embedding technology to override manual control of an airliner. That didn’t turn out well either.

    • What it might do is better present the most important information to the flight crew allowing them to better respond. Instead of a bunch of alarm bells and lights flashing all together it might say “dual engine failure estimated glide time 30 seconds for 1/2 mile”

    • In fairness those examples were both extraordinary pilots/crews and a little luck was involved. Most pilots, even excellent ones, would have biffed. With that said no chance some binary bit brain could have done better.

  3. That presumes that the AI will be in the cockpit. I predict that pilots need not worry about that yet. Isn’t it more likely that ATC will be the first to get AI? Initially, to automatically suggest solutions to the 4-D puzzle of airspace control, but eventually reducing ATC to the proverbial “one AI, one human controller, and one dog”. At that point, it’s a small step to enhancing autopilots to digitally interface with the AI controller.

    Once, access to controlled airspace required two-way comms, then transponders, then ADS-B/out. It won’t be long before the technology is ready, but with any luck the FAA regulatory molasses will delay it past my remaining flying years.

    When was the last time you rode an elevator with an operator? Or spoke to an FAA weather briefer?

  4. Before I retired from line flying, I used to muse on what I was doing that an AI autopilot could not do; I always came up with at least 5 things. I believe that we are at a floor of minimum crew complement at 2 pilots. Sure, you could do with less in normal ops but *WHEN* (not if) things go wrong, it really does take TWO pilots to deal safely with the average transport category aircraft emergency and also with lesser abnormals. Never buy a ticket to ride on a drone.

  5. I find it interesting that Mr. Clark feels the public would accept single pilot commercial flights, but not full AI. Considering that there have been several incidents of pilot incapacitation on airliners in the past few years, it seems to me that single pilot and full AI are essentially the same thing. If the single pilot keels over, the AI would be expected to fly on to a safe and successful landing. Actually, Garmin’s Autoland system pretty well fulfills that role now.

  6. AI is cheaper. Whatever is cheapest and gets the job done.
    It might seem cold, but aircraft accident rates are prefigured into the cost of operation. It’s done in every mode of transportation. If it’s too safe, it’s too heavy to fly.