Airbus is to produce pilotless planes, but will they take off?
Would you entrust your life to a driverless car? For me, the answer is yes. But if someone asked me if I would entrust my life to a self-flying plane, I’d be a bit more hesitant. Still, one company is ready to make that leap of faith. Airbus, one of the world’s largest companies in aerospace, has announced that they are going to pilot self-flying planes.
Airbus is to set up an innovation centre in the heart of the southern city of Shenzhen in China, a place often described as the Chinese Silicone Valley, as it marks a flight plan to fast-track the pilotless technology.
In a broadcast on Bloomberg TV, Paul Eremenko, Airbus’ Chief Technology Officer said: “We’re pursuing single-pilot operations as a potential option and a lot of the technology needed to make that happen has also put us on the path towards unpiloted operations.”
China has been speeding ahead with the development of self-driving cars, something that’s not surprising for the country well known for its love of artificial intelligence. However, Airbus’ decision to set up base in Shenzhen speaks volumes for the company’s intentions. It is predicted that China will need 4,000 to 5,000 new pilots every year for the next two decades if they are to keep up with the demand for flight travel in the country. Pilot training schools in China aren’t producing enough pilots to keep up with the demand for domestic and international flights. Airbus’ developments into pilotless planes could solve this problem.
“People are arguably apprehensive about these kind of things,” Shukor Yusof, founder of aviation consulting firm Endau Analytics told Bloomberg. “You have driverless cars, driverless buses, but for something that flies, that’s something different.”
Feeling apprehensive might be putting it lightly. Regulators have only just made it a requirement for two pilots to be in the cockpit at all times and moving ahead with a programme that would remove them altogether doesn’t really inspire confidence. Not to mention that the 2015 Germanwings A320 crash in the French Alps which killed 150 people, along with the disappearance of Flight MH370 in 2014, are both still firmly lodged in the front of people’s minds.
The announcement comes as the turbulent taxi firm, Uber is to partner with NASA to bring flying taxis to life. Whether these flying taxis will one day extend to pilotless, flying taxis, we’ll just have to wait and see.