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Pilotless planes may offer cheapest fares, study finds

August 11, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The development of pilotless passenger aircraft could save airlines a total of USD 35 billion and slash fares for passengers by 11% or more, analysis by an investment bank indicates.

A study by investment bank UBS looked at technology that may let airlines use remote control to fly planes carrying people and cargo by 2025.

The development would allow airlines to fire – or at least not rehire – swathes of staff. Almost three-quarters of the economic gains to airlines would be through their not having to pay pilots salaries, the study found. It estimated fares could fall 11% on US domestic routes.

However, if you find the prospect of hurtling through the sky in a pilotless aircraft terrifying, you are not alone. The biggest challenge to airlines would lie in convincing passengers to fly in a pilotless plane. With driverless cars striking consumer resistance, pilotless planes can expect plenty.

This is your captain speaking!

A poll of 1602 British consumers found that more than half (53%) had no interest in flying in a pilotless aircraft. Cheaper airfares were not enough to persuade them. A wider survey including respondents in Australia, the US, France and Germany found consumer resistance dropped to 41% and 40% for those aged 18-24 and 25-34 respectively – possibly the daredevil youth effect, greater familiarity with robots and automation, or a desperation for cheap fares.

The bank survey comes after Boeing product development vice-president Mike Sinnett, a pilot himself, confirmed to the West Australian newspaper in June that Boeing is about to test pilotless flight algorithms in a cockpit simulator and will use it on a test flight next year.

The UBS report said pilotless flight could boost safety, as it would remove the potential for pilot error or illness.

Passengers, however, know that computer error also occurs. They might even have read graphic reports of a Qantas pilot’s desperate battle for control of a passenger aircraft with a rogue computer that “went psycho”. See: Years after computer flip-out, Qantas captain fights on

UBS considers that the cargo industry may be first to use pilotless flights.

Its report said: “Unlike passengers, cargo is not concerned with the status of its pilots (human or autonomous). For this reason, pilotless cargo aircraft may happen more swiftly than for passengers.”

Written by Peter Needham

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