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  • Writer's pictureGrayson Belvin - VP/Director - EMEA Representative

"This is the Computer speaking from the flight deck." Are We Ready For Autonomous / Remote Piloting

Updated: Jul 25, 2018

Can traditional pilots be replaced by autonomous or remote piloting?

To the point: Are you and I comfortable with a computer doing the piloting or with a remote pilot steering us and our families down the runway?

Where HR and AI Intersect

There is still argument as to whether or not there is actually an airline pilot shortage. Maybe you've heard about it. There are industry projections pointing to an impending pilot supply side lack, and there are detractors that say that such forecasting is rooted in various self interests. I don't know.

My guess regarding the answer(s) is 1) It depends on where you are and 2) Its a matter of timing. It also appears that the issue is more complicated than a mere ATP pilot shortage, and that it is more related (currently) to a shortage of qualified and rated pilots for specific Pilot in Command roles (in combination with the issue of where, on the globe, those rated pilots are needed).

"He seemed confident that the general population is not ready for autonomous piloting."

For this this article, it is sufficient to say that a shortage could present some serious problems (think of all the personal, business, and governmental functions that rely on Air Transport) in certain parts of the world.

The Industry Does Have Piloting Options

Currently, a Pilot in Command and a First Officer are still flying our airliners. But autonomous piloting is on the agenda, and if you're not yet comfortable with autonomous, then have you thought about a Remote Pilot stepping in?

Is The Public Ready For Some Non-Human Options?

I recently sat down with a veteran pilot with both military and airline experience. We covered a number of topics, and we touched on the autonomous / remote piloting concept as a potential solution in the pilot training supply side. He seemed confident that the general population is not ready for autonomous piloting.

Some Human and Non-Human Piloting Combinations

So, what are our options?

  1. Captain with a First Officer Backup: This is what we know. This is what we pay for. Two pilots at once are also expensive (compared to a single-pilot-in-the-cockpit option). The Chinese market, as one example, is paying big bucks for pilots to come fly there, and the industry seems to be scrambling to train more individuals to be Captain-ready (if I'm understanding current dynamics correctly).

  2. Captain with an Autonomous Backup: If automated flight steps up (like it is already doing), then maybe an Autonomous option just provides back up if the Captain is disabled. The chances of the Captain being incapacitated are low (I'm not trying to discount the real security considerations). Is an Autonomous backup enough to cover that statistically low chance of the Captain having issues in flight? It could save money too, because an Autonomous "pilot" is cheaper than a First Officer. Can an Autonomous option help with the checks and routine backup that a First Officer currently provides? Or does Captain need a real person engaged if things get tense?

  3. Either a Captain or a Less Qualified Pilot with a Remote Backup Pilot: This seems more human...especially if the Remote Pilot can step in and really land the thing if needed. Remote set ups could provide backup for a number of flights (one Remote backup to multiple flights), so long as the Remote Pilot is backed by other Remote Pilots if he were activated.

  4. Remote Pilot with an Autonomous Backup: I'm imagining the Remote Pilot announcing through the intercom, "Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like you are experiencing nauseating turbulence up there. Wow! Sorry!" I'm not a cyber threat expert, but hacking feels like the major threat here. How to solve it?

  5. Autonomous with a Remote Pilot Backup: Can an Autonomous "pilot" fly? That's the biggest question. Can it get hacked (It looks like, in a different context, aircraft hacking has already happened)? If we think about the current utilization of computers to provide stability of flight controls on modern (and inherently unstable) military or experimentalaircraft, then it doesn't seem like a stretch for computers to land a more stable air transport aircraft.

What Do You Think?

What do you think? How do we proceed? People on the flight deck? Remote piloting? Automated piloting?

Kind regards from the other side of the pond,

Grayson Belvin,

EMEA Representative, VP/Director

Lewis-Gray Solutions Group, LC

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