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Are You Ready to Fly Without a Human Pilot?

Some think automation could obviate the need for human pilots, but experts say the technology, the industry and the passengers are not quite ready for fully autonomous flying. ( More...

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Luke Runciman 10
How about system failure? Technology like this will only be proved safe when it can: A. handle the amount of system failures experienced on QF32 (5 experienced pilots working at their limits to bring a stricken Airbus A380 back to Singapore's Changi airport following an uncontained engine failure in the No.2 engine. Over 5 pages of ECAM errors needed to be worked through in order for the Pilot in Command to execute a safe landing). B. When a computer can safely execute an emergency landing on the Hudson river (US Airways 1549 - both engines lost on an Airbus A320 shortly after take-off from LaGuardia Airport, New York City). The media will often report the instances where crashes have occurred due to pilot error, but what they never seem to report is the amount of times commercial flights have been saved due to the knowledge and experience of a professional crew.
If you CAN get a computer to do all that stuff, then we're all in trouble. After all it's 2018. Can you say "Hello Hal, Please sing Daisy for me?"
Torsten Hoff 1
I’m not disagreeing with anything you wrote but wanted to point out that both those incidents likely would have had a different outcome with a different set of humans at the controls. There are also plenty of cases where humans screwed up completely routine situations and got people killed because of mistakes, exhaustion, inattentiveness, or even intent.

Machines are not perfect, but neither are humans
lyn williams 4
Not to disagree with you Sir, but I believe what the Gentlemen poster was getting at with the Hudson River event comment was that a computer would very likely not select the Hudson as an alternative landing site. Finding no landing sites available it would have quit. And that is 100% of computers.
Edward Bardes 4
And that's exactly why it's impossible to program flight computers with all the things of which a human is capable.
Rex Bentley 4
Difference is 99.999% of humans prefer life over death or injury. Machine doesn't know and couldn't care less. I'd rather take my chances with an inept human pilot that at least has a survival instinct and wants to see Ma and the kids at the end of the day than a worthless piece of tin that can only respond to what ever programming was put into it. Who knows what kind of nut programmed it?
bbabis -1
Humans give up, panic, freeze, make the wrong choice... And by some of the dumb stuff pilots continue to do year after year to kill themselves and others, a well programmed machine could be much better.
Luke Runciman 1
Very True Torsten.
Robert Fleming 10
IF I wouldn't, under ANY circumstances ride in a driverless car, there's ABSOLUTELY NO WAY IN HELL I'd fly in a plane without a HUMAN PILOT! SORRY! NO WAY!
Was just coming in to say this. Flight operations have many variables that need to be accounted for. Much more than a standard road vehicle. Heck, for most train/subway services, those still have drivers!
beilstwh 1
Actually the variables that have to be accounted for by an autonomous car is magnitudes larger then anything an autonomous plane would have to encounter. That is why they already have systems that can take off, fly, and land without human intervention. They are used mostly for freight deliveries and the law says that they still have to have pilots onboard. (for now)
lyn williams 2
I agree! The only problem is keeping the Unique Solutions carefully aligned with the Unique Problems and not overlapping with 'Routine Operations'. Unique solutions for Routine Operations is a recipe for disaster.
Highflyer1950 7
Maybe....When you can get a computer to think but not react, when you can get a computer to reason, not select from a pre-programmed list of functions that may or may not be the solution to the problem, when you can teach a computer about weather in order to turn on the seat belt sign before it flies directly into cumulonimbus clouds at 320 kts in the descent, maybe I’ll take a ride......then again maybe not!
BaronG58 6
" Are you ready to fly without a human pilot?" Nope!!
zuluzuluzulu 3
i need something with a soul and a lot to lose flying me. we benefit from a pilot’s survival instincts
alan75035 2
I'm quite sure that a sizable number of passengers wouldn't care one bit if they could save a buck or two.
Jesse Carroll 1
Very wrong my friend! Very wrong!
A. Highsmith 2
When are we going to learn that technology cannot do everything. I would never get on board an aircraft without a trained and experienced human in the cockpit.
Ill walk first before R2D2 flies my plane, have you ever had your computer crash ? its upsetting , but a plane crash is more upsetting. auto ppilot with human back up is just fine dr bob Thousand
skylab72 2
Maybe, about fifty years after self-driving cars are commonplace, for short-haul and VFR only for the first 50 years, maybe.
Wayne Landis 2
There is no way I would want to fly in a plane without a pilot & copilot, even if they are just sitting in the cockpit in case of an emergency and the computer is flying the plane. Another factor that I didn't see here is, if the plane doesn't have pilots then, what if the computer fails and flies into a downtown skyscraper (Like 911). The lost is not just the people on the plane but everyone on the ground. Even if I'm on the ground I want to know that there are pilots in that plane overhead.
Jeffrey Bue 2
That was a very good "read". I love automation but it needs to be implemented just as the article suggests. Same with automobiles. I think we will see a lot of automation but I'm not sure we'll EVER embrace totally autonomous "driverless" cars. I could be wrong but there's just too much liability with that level of automation in my opinion.
paul trubits 2
Baby steps. The coming pilot shortage will force flights to have one pilot monitoring an automated plane.
Rex Bentley 1
Or maybe the bus companies' business will increase
Pat Hull 2
No. Just no. Not now. Not ever. Not for any possible savings. System failure. Human error in programming. Hacking. Nope!
skylab72 2
Well, with that attitude, I would suggest you may want to start by avoiding Airbus equipment. Their current level of automation in flight controls already promotes crew complacency.
belzybob 3
Driverless trains were introduced on one of the London Underground lines back in 1971. They still put a driver in their to watch what's going on, presumably in the belief its needed for public confidence. Rail is a very controlled environment. Could this perceived resistance to automated operation ever be overcome in avation?
bbabis -1
Elevators used to all have operators. Who thinks twice about jumping on an elevator anymore?
Dave Fisher 2
false equivalency. elevators had operators as a service *not* because you needed hours of training in order to operate one. even though anyone can open a door, fancy hotels still employ doormen for the same reason: service.
bbabis 1
You must be too young to remember true operators and their operator stations. And even before my time, it was always nice to have a horse that could find its own way home, particularly if you stayed way too long at the saloon. ;>)
Slight difference there. Elevators are on a single track, no switching, no other cabs on that line, moving a short distance.

Trains/Subways have longer runs, multiple vehicles on one track, the ability to switch tracks.
I guess the shuttle services at major airports have Automated Subways/People movers. And we don't think twice about that. But even then, that is still a "closed loop" system.
Stan Still 1
How about a remote pilot? He (or she) sits in an enclosed cubicle ready to take over in the case of any emergency. While the "no pilot needed" aircraft takes off and flies the passengers to their destination (saving the airlines a fortune in labor costs) the remote pilot can be ready to take over in case an emergency occurs for not only 1 but several aircraft. Nope, not me. I'll pay a few bucks more to have a real pilot and co-pilot with a real self interest to get their selves and the rest of us down safely.
bbabis 1
Like the German wings And Egypt Air pilots.
Edward Bardes 1
Yet another disadvantage of pilotless planes; they would make the problem of deliberate pilot-induced crashes worse because the pilots won't go down with the ship.
bbabis 1
Pilots of pilotless aircraft? Suicidal computers? Now you’re just making stuff up. No one disagrees that evil exists in the world and protection from it is always a top priority in any mass transit mode. 100% safety will always be desired but impossible. No matter what steps Aviation takes forward, if safety is not increased that step will not be taken.
Pete Pereira 2
“No matter what steps Aviation takes forward, if safety is not increased that step will not be taken.”

The implication of your statement is that safety must be improved with any change to the system. I have to disagree. While safety is paramount in aviation (and elevayors), there are other key performance metrics... availability, maintainability, utilization, environmental impact, etc., and if one or more can be improved without compromising safety, why would anyone complain?
bbabis 1
Actually Pete, on its face, my statement doesn't make sense. Well said and we both agree that safety should be paramount in any consideration.
skylab72 1
Drone airliners, great. It all begs the question. Is or is not the state of the art in artificially intelligent computational devices capable of matching the performance of an average pilot IN ALL previously encountered meteorological circumstances and IN ALL previously encountered flight regimes of any given aircraft type?

As yet the answer is simply a simple NO. The issues are manifold the solutions are complex. Complexity is not the friend of safety.

One day, if we do not regress, the answer may change.
When they get cellphones to work 100% of the time then we may be ready for autonomous flying!

Mike ONeill 1
I'm thinking the question is around commercial aircraft, so no, net yet for me. However, be careful of the word 'fly' since it's already happening:
Edward Bardes 1
I'll believe AIs can fully substitute humans as pilots when six-year-olds are allowed to fly commercially.
Rex Bentley 1
There's an old joke about that. First fully automated plane gives passenger brief while awaiting take off. At the end it says set back relax, don't worry, nothing can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong,...
PaulN2719 1
I tend to be a nervous flyer anyway, but at least I know there are two qualified pilots in the cockpit in case something goes wrong. NO WAY IN HELL would I consider getting on a plane with no one in charge in case of an emergency!
Charles Peele 1
UBER AIR LINERS JUST TO SAVE MONEY? Who's Kidding WHOM?.................C
Torsten Hoff 1
Don’t get me started on Uber. They are perfectly happy to take advantage of free-lance drivers and the insane company valuation for now, but their end-game is to have autonomous cars and aircraft. When the technology is ready, they’ll cut all the drivers loose, either by limiting who can drive for them, or by making the job (even more) financially unviable. Since the drivers aren’t employees, Uber won’t have to pay them severance either — the jobs will just disappear, and Uber will sit on top of an empire that was built on the backs of millions of people who got little more than gas money.
bbabis 1
The problem with driverless cars are the cars that still have drivers in them as you never know what one might do. If they were all driverless and operating in a prescribed order instead of the current chaos it would be a great system. Gone would be the days of a car load of teenagers taking a mustang or whatever around a curve or over a hill too fast and finding a tree to tragic results. Also, all those addicted to texting and can't stop to safely drive can just sit back in their driverless cars and text away. Airplanes will probably have an easier time becoming pilotless do to the inherent order of the system. It is the future. Embrace it.
dvet13 -1
The technology is here to get this done. Autonomous aircraft will need to be rigorously tested and proven before the government, airlines, and the public accept it. I think this transition will happen sooner than people expect.
wx1996 3
I am thinking the first step would be an autonomous aircraft with one pilot as backup for years to prove the technology? And maybe limited to 30-45 minute diversion emergency landing.
Jesse Carroll 1
I'll blow a few more ozone drops before I fly on any of them! It's almost to that point anyway seeing how the Airlines treat us like sheep!
All these years and they still don't know how to load a tube full of people!
bbabis 0
You are correct and as wx1996 eluded to it will happen in baby steps before it runs. An emergency pilot will give way to ground controllers in charge of every flight and finally fully autonomous vehicles. The big caveat will always be; To err is human but to really fubar things up takes a computer.
jbermo -1
Can you imagine the amount of stink generated by the pilot unions, come the day these systems are proven reliable beyond a doubt? . . . . like that when losing the radio operator, navigator, and flight engineer of years ago.
George Cottay 0
Not yet but I can well imagine it in the next ten or twenty years.


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