The aviation industry can save $35 billion per year if it moves towards pilotless planes, a new report has revealed.
According to a UBS analysis of the aerospace, airlines and logistics sectors, reducing the intervention of human pilots on aircraft could bring material economic benefits and improve safety.
Commercial jets already take off and land using their on-board computers, and the pilot’s task is increasingly focused on managing and overseeing the aircraft and its systems.
The pilot role is gradually moving away from actually piloting the plane to optimizing the flying mission and trajectory: monitoring, managing and programming more complex and automated on-board systems such as flying in four dimensions and advanced weather tracking systems.
The UBS analysts said the transition to pilotless planes is likely to happen over many years. Cargo planes will likely be at the forefront with commercial flights being the last to go pilotless. Technically speaking, the technology for remotely controlled planes carrying passengers and cargo could appear by 2025, the report said.
Moreover, the number of pilots needed for each flight could be reduced along the way. Airlines typically employ 10 pilots per aircraft, and reducing their number would result in less spending on training, salaries and other staffing costs.
It is likely that there will be resistance to pilotless planes, given the potential for job losses. Nevertheless, pilotless planes would likely reduce the pressure to find future pilots.
While taking the human factor out of the aircraft may generate massive savings and improve safety, a large share of fliers is hesitant to fly ‘pilotlessly’.
A UBS Evidence Lab survey of 8,000 people showed that 54% of respondents were unlikely to take a pilotless flight. Just 17% of respondents, who were from the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Australia, said they would buy the ticket.
UBS Evidence Lab also asked respondents how much cheaper a pilotless flight ticket would need to be for them to fly on a regular flight without pilots. Surprisingly, half of the respondents said that they would not buy the pilotless flight ticket even if it was cheaper.
The balance between human and computer control of a flight may have to be an evolution rather than a revolution.