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How soon the pilotless airliner?

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How soon the pilotless airliner?

Old 22nd Aug 2013, 11:13
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How soon the pilotless airliner?

Flight is starting a debate on this. Can we realistically look forward to the future we dream of, or are we being written out of the equation? The pilotless airliner is no longer unthinkable - Learmount
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 11:36
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I believe it is already here. From many of the threads on here it appears that there are plenty of people sitting in the front of modern jets who can't even carry out a simple visual approach, so can't really be called pilots.
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 11:38
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Dream of? Have nightmares about!

I would certainly not fly (longhaul anyway) as SLF unless there were at least two pilots at the pointy end. Anything less is just risking single-point failure.
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 11:44
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This is not gonna happen...
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 11:49
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Decades away, if it ever happens - far too many variables.

Do I think airliners will become more automated - why yes! But there will still be "operatives" up the sharp end.

If we were to have fully automated airliners, who would be liable when the first one spears into the middle of a conurbation such as London or New York?
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 11:54
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me neither

you are not alone, HDRW. me SLF want drivers at the pointy end! they ain't there, i ain't flying.
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 11:55
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Think it through …

A manufacturer (let’s call them ‘Airbus’ for example) has to convince themselves of the business case.
Then they have to spend zillions developing and certifying it to the satisfaction of every country it may fly to/over.
Then they have to find launch customers.
These launch customers have to promote it to their potential passengers who will almost certainly have the choice of flying on a humanly-piloted alternative. What will their selling point be?
What happens after the first pilotless airliner crash (there assuredly will be one)?

Just because it’s technically feasible doesn’t mean it will happen.
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 11:59
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Learmonth's Concept

If there is a central control room with 50 pilots and 10 flight engineers on duty to intervene with Autonomous passenger aircraft (or cargo) it had better be in the middle of Mount Cheyenne as any such centre will be the target for Al Qaeda or organised crime syndicates.
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 12:06
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No doubt it is theoretically possible. Would airlines invest in the money required? Especially when they are not prepared to invest in decent communications over Africa and still use HF.

A few scenarios that have happened to me, I wonder how the remote guys would deal with it?

1) A light aircraft without transponder blundered into our path. We saw him visually and took violent evasive action. As far as I can see a remotely controlled airliner would have hit him.

2) Circumnavigating CBs. I very much doubt the controller sitting in a comfortable chair can have the same degree of self preservation and interest and understanding of the associated turbulence that the pilots at the front get. A good Captain and First Officer assess the weather using the radar and visual clues, discuss the options and then agree on the best routing to take.

3) Autopilot dropped out in cruise at FL350 and would not reengage. Aircraft flown manually to destination.

4) Medical emergency, doctor on board, immediate diversion required.

5) Outer pane of flight deck window cracked in cruise. Aircraft did not detect it. There are so many things in an aircraft that can be spotted visually but are not detected by the automatics and sensors.

Pilots can still do things that no automated airliner can do, ie look out of the window, see a runway and visually approach and land on it. I don't think there will be pilotless commercial aircraft flying around in the lifetime of anyone reading this forum. Maybe freighters.
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 12:10
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Pilotless technology is there and has been around for some time.

The point is we (the pilots) and they (the passengers) do not want this.

The End.
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 12:12
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On the rare occasion that something anomalous occurs on an aeroplane, an alert sounds and all the flight and systems data for that aircraft are made available on the interface in real time, together with a systems diagnostic report. They can intervene as effectively as they could have done in the aircraft.
I am not so certain that the remote pilot would be able to pick up the required situational awareness of all emergencies where the automation has dropped out in this simplistic fashion. What if 'all the flight and system data is not there or is corrupt and the automation dropped out short finals?

Currently, ICAO does not recognize autonomous aircraft, only remotely piloted aircraft - that is continuously remotely piloted. All the current regulations for operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems are being written on the basis of pilot(s) with full IFR ratings to fly the UAS. The beancounters would (and are) really pushing for total automation but there are many technical hurdles to overcome even before we get to the legal and then human factors ones.

It is also unlikely that commercial passenger aircraft will be flying and self separating in IFR as this would be very inefficient. The probability in both SESAR and NextGen is that aircraft will be flying precise user preferred or 'business' 4D trajectories that have been deconflicted out to 20 - 30 minutes ahead. There should be no reason for airborne separation assurance except as another layer of safety and for situational awareness. The 4D trajectories will have been deconflicted by ATC systems and negotiated with the 'aircraft' to come to an agreed conflict free 20 minute + 'contracted 4D trajectory'. This type of system has been demonstrated over 15 years ago. Both controllers and pilots moved to more 'management by exception. BUT there remained a real need for situational awareness and an understanding of what is happening all around the aircraft. Without that situational awareness I cannot see that the required Target Level of Safety could be reached.

That is not to say that in some areas these UAS capabilities might be used with pax. There are already 'optionally piloted' aircraft being used by the military. They can ferry supplies but return with casualties on board for example. Moving from that niche into general freight carrying wide-bodies or to passenger carrying is not going to be a simple step so don't worry about jobs just yet.

Last edited by Ian W; 22nd Aug 2013 at 12:15. Reason: Tidy up quote
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 12:15
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Pilotless technology is there and has been around for some time.

The point is we (the pilots) and they (the passengers) do not want this.

The End.
Spot on!
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 12:21
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Pilots can still do things that no automated airliner can do, ie look out of the window, see a runway and visually approach and land on it.
Well some pilots can.......
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 12:22
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5) Outer pane of flight deck window cracked in cruise. Aircraft did not detect it. There are so many things in an aircraft that can be spotted visually but are not detected by the automatics and sensors.
Probably a little redundant in a pilotless aircraft
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 12:27
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How soon the pilotless airliner?

I can see it happening with Cargo into maybe remote specifically designed airfields, but never with pax aircraft.

Wouldnt surprise me if someone like Fedex weren't looking at it now.
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 13:19
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I don't want to put a dampener on things, but with the increase in companies such as Ryanair and the gradual de-skilling of pilots, a point will come where a pilot costs the company no more than a flight attendant. If they are going to retain flight attendants, then why spend billions (and it will be billions!) to save them the cost of two pilots?

Also you may get rid of two pilot wages by going 'fully automatic' but, initially at least, they will be replaced by the wages of all those extra maintenance, software, network managers, certifiers, system monitoring people who will be the price of the deal to allow pilotless flight.
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 13:24
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I can see it happening with Cargo into maybe remote specifically designed airfields, but never with pax aircraft
Not just commercial cargo. I can see this also being appealing for the military, who could deliver supplies to war zones without risking crew.
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 13:46
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If I just happened to be a passenger on a pilot-less 777 whose engines died from iced fuel intakes on short finals into LHR, could I trust the Auto system to instantly put the nose down, accelerate, thus gaining enough lift and momentum to just clear the perimeter fence and put down on the grass without serious injuries?

Thought not!

It's a different matter with cargo planes and more acceptable because there would be no-one aboard at risk in a situation like that.

People on the ground beneath the freighter might see things differently!
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 13:47
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VH-UFO:
I can see it happening with Cargo into maybe remote specifically designed airfields
This may work in the USA but over here we're crowded enough that you'd find it hard to prang a 172 without hitting someone on the ground (OK, an exaggeration!), and there's no space to build new airfields anywhere useful.

What would be the point of taking the cargo to somewhere remote, when it's wanted at its (presumably usually urban) destination? The extra surface transport costs may well scupper the economics.

In fact I think the economics will defeat it all together - saving the cost of 2 pilots but having to build specialist airfields, with "unstoppable" electronics (what does a pilotless aircraft do when it needs navaids to land, and they're offline?) just doesn't add up. As far as I can see, the only people pushing this idea are the electronics firms who need to project future projects / revenue, and the free-thinkers who haven't considered all the ramifications. And journalists wanting to sell papers, of course.

Remember, the UPS at Birmingham AL didn't even have a glideslope (in fact neither did Asiana at SanFran) which would have made both places inaccessible to a robot aircraft.

Incidentally, we have had AutoLand for some decades, but I don't think *anyone* has AutoTaxy, even in testing? Apart from anything else, it would add to the Ground controller's workload, and I can't see them accepting that.

@joy_ride:
I agree completely, and I'd hate to be the software designer who tries to specify what to do with a double engine failure on short final. And I think everyone considering pilotless aircraft should say out loud: "Remember Sully!"

Last edited by HDRW; 22nd Aug 2013 at 13:51.
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Old 22nd Aug 2013, 13:52
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Part solution...

A man and a dog. Man is there to feed the dog. Dog is there to bite the man if he tries to touch anything.
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