Go Back  PPRuNe Forums > Ground & Other Ops Forums > Safety, CRM, QA & Emergency Response Planning
Reload this Page >

"Pilotless airliners safer" - London Times article

Safety, CRM, QA & Emergency Response Planning A wide ranging forum for issues facing Aviation Professionals and Academics

"Pilotless airliners safer" - London Times article

Old 4th Dec 2014, 09:18
  #181 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Germany
Age: 66
Posts: 782

Various militaries in the world are testing autonomous UCAVs
These are unmanned, autonomous combat aircraft.
As we know flying in to harms way is a high risk business, that is why bombs are released from aircraft and not flown kamikaze style into the target. Therefore cruise missiles had been developped to navigate some distance through high threat areas and finally hit the target without putting the aircrew at risk. UCAV's are just the logical progress to extend the range, endurance and mode of operations of those high risk missions. They operate well in those specialized tasks, but as surface to air missiles could not replace manned fighter aircraft drones will not replace them either.

These aircraft must find must take-off (from a carrier in this case) navigate, find and kill the enemy, navigate home and then land on.
No beacons, no radio control, no atc, no TCAS.
There are other missions like surveilance and reconnisance missions, where long endurance over the area of interest is better done with sattelites or unmanned vehicles, the army starts to use robots in their field of responsibility for those tasks.

But what has that to do with commercial air traffic?
While the motive of the forces is to be able to conduct missions not suitable for manned aircraft while risking the loss of those vehicles and accepting collateral damage in a war time scenario, disregarding costs for development, operation and possible higher loss rates due to mission requirement, commercial air traffic has completely different goals and the use of unmanned aircraft would have the only purpose to save money on human resources without loosing safety, flexibility, and reliability of their operations.

If you want to advocate the pilotless airline operations of the future, i think you have to do it without using the forces as valid example.
RetiredF4 is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 09:19
  #182 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Home
Posts: 3,400
An interested reader might get the impression from this thread that I am one of a few deluded idiots who thinks this could work when the sensible educated people of this world know its impossible.

A more realistic view is that the engineers of this world don't post on this site. They just quietly get on in the background making it happen.


These are not chumps.
These are the future, and they believe to the sum of billions that it is possible and going to happen.

Some old pilots saying "it ain't going to happen" whilst posting no evidence or links whatsoever to back up their point of view smacks of a triumph of desperate hope over realistic thought processes.

I have posted an endless series of links which support my view.
I challenge the naysayers to do likewise.
Tourist is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 09:26
  #183 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Home
Posts: 3,400

I use the forces not as an example of why it should be done.
I use them because it is being done with them, and the technical challenges once solved for military will be valid for civil.
The tech required to find and kill an enemy aircraft or defend is easily converted to the simpler task of avoiding others thus sense and avoid.
The challenge of navigating at low level without prior planning is more difficult than navigating airways from airport to airport
Etc etc.

Yes, a big driver for UAVs has been to protect our pink bodies, but that does not stop the tech being valid, plus the latest generation are about more than equaling the human.
Tourist is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 09:37
  #184 (permalink)  
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Scotland
Posts: 775
Those of you talking about space are conflating multiple issues. The main reason most space craft are unmanned are their mission types and requirements. It should be obvious why satellites are unmanned. Space probes are unmanned as their design and objective precludes life support and return.

However, the main reason for unmanned craft is weight! Given the cost per kilo to orbit (around $1,000,000 I believe), all that weight spent on life support systems, seats, food and all the other support stuff us poor old carbon units require is incredibly expensive to get to orbit, and thus is sacrificed if it is not utterly needed.
Jwscud is online now  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 09:55
  #185 (permalink)  
Join Date: May 2013
Location: UK
Age: 51
Posts: 72
Before looking at autonomous cars and planes, the question I would ask is where are the autonomous trains? Anyone who's ever had a model railway and a bit of skill with a soldering iron knows it's very easy to make a train obey signals, and stop at the station. no steering required. no route planning required. And yet we still have a squishy human who looks out the window and says 'green means go' no thinking required.

there's the novelty of the docklands light railway, and the little trundle train at Stanstead, but none of the main lines or the underground are autonomous.

Is it, that we know humans sometimes make mistakes, but we also know that computers crash every single day. We are constantly being told to turn it off and on again. Most people on here know that Airbus and Boeing don't run on Windows, that there is redundancy and safeguards etc, but the general perception to the public is that computers crash, all the time.
Interested Passenger is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 09:59
  #186 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: UTC +8
Posts: 2,615
Irrational fears about pilotless planes must eventually give way to the evidence that they are better and safer.
But there are rational fears about in-flight snafus: Hydraulic leak affecting flight controls/gears & gear doors; electrical anomalies affecting navigation/gyros/fuel pumps/valves/autopilots/auto-throttles; smoke in cabin; bird strike; uncontained engine failure/separation; air conditioning/pressurization failure . . .
GlueBall is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 10:03
  #187 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Germany
Age: 66
Posts: 782

The military use of thise drones is still limited to specialized tasks despite all that potential they have.Those drones are not replacing helicopters and transport aircraft for airlift operations now or some time in the future, because they are not capable to do the same like manned aircraft can do, they are not able to make decisions, they are only able to stick to them. Therfore there will be always fighters ( not all of them) with pilots, to make the appropriate decisions when they are necessary. If you have ever been a fighter pilot, you would know how many of those decisions have to be made on an average ride.

The crude preprogrammed decision making of computers works well in a preplanned environment with a preplanned task and with the knowledge that you can get away with unplanned losses, because its war and somebody else is paying the bill.

There are less decisions to be made in airliners than in fighter aircraft, but those which are left are important ones and might cause great harm if done wrong.

Nothing has changed since those words were said:

Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.
How would an unpiloted airliner cope with a MEL list, with ATC and weather demands (both can't be foreseen), with inflight emergencies not in the book, with simple software and hardware bugs we encounter on a day to day basis where we are already dependent on functioning computer driven systems? There is no fail safe in live as there is no unfailable human.

The most ridiculous arguments are derived from those statistics, like 70% of airline accidents are caused by human errors. You might know, that 30% of the car accidents in Germany are caused by drunk drivers, and 70% by sober ones. You think that we should remove those 70% sober drivers or make them drink to get the highest improvement in accident rates?

Last edited by RetiredF4; 4th Dec 2014 at 10:57.
RetiredF4 is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 10:14
  #188 (permalink)  
Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: uk
Posts: 289
It's quite obvious that the people at qinetiq etc are not chumps. If someone was paying 60 odd million, I'd be working quietly away, too.
And there's no desperation in my position. I might have another few years left in this great business, but whatever happens it won't affect me.
The reason it won't happen, I made very clear.
Post #171, if it helps.
16024 is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 10:18
  #189 (permalink)  
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: The Winchester
Posts: 5,364
I have posted an endless series of links which support my view.
I challenge the naysayers to do likewise.
If you insist, though I don't think links prove anything..:

An artificial intelligence system is only about a smart as a 4-year-old child, and has very uneven skill levels.
wiggy is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 10:33
  #190 (permalink)  

Avoid imitations
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Wandering the FIR and cyberspace often at highly unsociable times
Posts: 12,226
One of the things that computers are very good at is monitoring mechanical systems. The readings given to you in the cockpit are a very small selection of those available to a modern monitoring system currently fitted to airliners. The machine can do trend analysis and untiringly monitor those systems and is in an immeasurably better position to spot a spurious caption than a pilot who with the best will in the world cannot multitask like a computer.
There is a reason why all complex modern processes across all engineering now have computer monotoring.
I'm aware of that.
You appear to be trying to get me to believe that the data given to the pilot via a warning system is different to the inputs actually received by the onboard computer, or sent via data link to the ground station. That's incorrect rubbish.

My point is, if the onboard data collection system fails (and its backup, as did happen in my case), a human pilot can still make real time decisions. Without data, a computer based system cannot.

Last edited by ShyTorque; 4th Dec 2014 at 10:51.
ShyTorque is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 11:20
  #191 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: LONDON
Posts: 27
there's the novelty of the docklands light railway, and the little trundle train at Stanstead, but none of the main lines or the underground are autonomous.
The Victoria line has been fully autonomous since 1968, the Central Line since 1995, the Jubilee since about 2005 and the Northern since this year.

The "driver" has to close the doors because automated systems are not able to very that all passengers are safely clear. Otherwise everything is automatic. The door problem has been partially solved on the Jubilee line by fitting platform doors aligned with those of the train.

It's that sort of 'cleaning up' of the environment that has to be provided for an automated system to work. Very expensive but with the added benefit of a massive safety increase.
netstruggler is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 11:25
  #192 (permalink)  
Join Date: May 2001
Location: England
Posts: 1,740

I don't want an intelligent aircraft.
I don't want emotions or artwork or joy.

I just want a machine that flys a plane.
Presumabely though, you still want a plane which is "safe". So what would make an autonomous plane safe? Is it speed/reliability or intelligence? One of these components has the edge, which one? Surely, safety cannot be met by just relying on a "machine that flys a plane"?
Superpilot is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 12:27
  #193 (permalink)  
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Devon
Age: 61
Posts: 6
autonomous systems and navigation

I haven't posted to this forum before as I'm not flight crew so a few words of introduction needed. I am an ex FAA qualified dispatcher and a physicist by training - my day job these days is protecting GNSS based navigation systems from threats (RF interference, spoofing (fake signals) and cyber-attack) - I have more than 15 years experience of this (my dispatcher days were on older aircraft types- Viscount, DC9 and L1011 principally)

Interesting to follow some of the arguments on this site. I believe that fully autonomous aircraft are coming, although not in the near future. We do already have autonomous trains (Docklands light railway and Copenhagen Metro are two examples that I know of ). What is also true is that it's a bit easier to provide back up navigation systems to trains in the event that GNSS is not available (masking, underground, RF interference, etc) than for a transport system that does not use fixed tracks.

From a navigation point of view there are challenges to fully autonomous systems - firstly its the case that GNSS probably has to be a part of the overall control system as a common, precise time frame will be required (some of us call this 4D-trajectory management). But GNSS signals as received on the Earth's surface are very weak and thus susceptible to RF interference and from spoofing which could be carried out using a faked replica of a GNSS signal. Obviously this would be of great concern to anyone stepping onto an autonomous aircraft - what happens to the navigation system if a hacker can utilise the GPS channel to inject false or corrupted navigation messages or to report a false position.

Without enough robustness to defend or at least detect and revert to back-up navigation systems, this becomes a major issue.

In the GNSS industry, one of the fathers of GPS, Bradford Parkinson, talks about Protecting, Toughening and Augmenting GNSS. This means that for safety critical applications there is a need to do several things to harden GPS against attack (or unintentional effects):-
Protection through legislation that means if someone uses a jamming device ( and we believe that there are a lot out there in use on the roads today - just type in "GPS jammer" into google to find out how easy it is to get one) there are severe penalties in force to deter their use.

Toughening is about making sure that the GNSS Receiver or sensor has adequate detection and mitigation implemented ( Receiver Autonomous Integrity Monitoring (RAIM) is one of the techniques employed on today's aviation Receivers). This will need improvements to the way RAIM is implemented and advanced detection mechanisms (such as monitoring the automatic gain control of the receiver).

Augmentation is about using a back up system intelligently (INS is a very good bet here as essentially it is a very good dead-reckoning system and will get even better when cold-atom INS technology arrives that will need less fixes from GPS.

My point is that there is still a lot of work to do before we get to the point where our navigation systems can use GNSS and backups safely in a fully autonomous system - and it is an evolving situation - the bad guys will still try to defeat the protection mechanisms whatever industry does.

However, having said all that - autonomous transport is coming. My bet is that we will see autonomous cargo ships first - a lot of work is being done in that area. Ground vehicles and aircraft will follow - it's inevitable as a lot of industry money is being spent in these areas. But the timeline? May not come in my lifetime or in the timeline of most of the flight crew on this forum, especially when it comes to passenger carrying aircraft.

Autonomous systems will have to prove they are safer than ones with human control and that will take a very long time as the transport industry with safety critical concerns is thankfully cautious and conservative about adopting new and unproven technology. It will be a revolution but if it comes about in my lifetime I will still hanker after seeing (from jumpseat) skilled professional flight crew handling the DC9 in bad weather and with minimum automatics.
ex-Dispatcher is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 13:27
  #194 (permalink)  
Join Date: Apr 2001
Posts: 34
Why fight it?
Barely half way through my career with 20 years at the pointy end and another 20 to go, the idea of remote control has to be the dream!
Ever since my first flight I have been wondering about the next step. Now Im hauling heavies on legs longer than reasonable and I might also be in a position to tell others what to do.
The idea of sitting down at a desk, telling the thing somewhere on the other side of the world to cruise at M.86 to be economical, turning off the WX-radar before ******* off for lunch at my own convenience and letting others find out what moderate turbulence or penetrating CBs feels like at long-range cruise speed while Im out feels severely tempting.
Oops, my bad if it turns to shit, I no longer have to take part in the immideate consequences.
Any day please!
AUTO/MAN is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 14:43
  #195 (permalink)  
Join Date: Aug 2013
Location: FL060
Posts: 143
Never in a billion years...

Maybe since I use to be part of the military-industrial complex, but these quotes are geting far to rampant

"I think you are all delusional.
Various Militaries are already utilising unmanned and autonomous fixed-wing and rotary vehicles at war.
These are point and click UAVs."

If a UAV goes in, fine, taxpayer dollars are "wasted", but who cares. There is more or less an unlimited reserve.

Do you all REALLY believe that the military is going to devulge how many they have lost and for what reasons.
Never in a billion years...
cavok_flyer is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 14:44
  #196 (permalink)  
Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Malvern, UK
Posts: 397
Whilst I full understand the important distinction between autonomous and remotely piloted aircraft, I would point out that any autonomous aircraft operating in an air traffic environment like the one we have currently will have to allow remote access to its FMS. This is the only way that route changes and other ATC constraints can be conveyed. Therefore many of the concerns regarding hacking into the system remain valid.

Only when we have an air traffic environment where the aircraft can autonomously self separate (in an orderly way which never creates escalating knock-on effects) can we really consider one where the they can autonomously navigate.

So basically the ATCos are all going to be out of work before the pilots.

[Sorry if this has already come up. This thread got too big too quickly for a newcomer to have a hope of reading the whole thing before posting.]
Dont Hang Up is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 15:30
  #197 (permalink)  
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Scotland
Posts: 775
As a former professional seafarer, I think autonomous cargo ships are just as much a pipe dream as autonomous passenger aircraft. The demands of the environment are in some respects more challenging than aircraft - exposure to storms, wind, potential damage and so on.

The demands of detection and collision avoidance are also at least an order of magnitude more challenging than in the air.
Jwscud is online now  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 15:55
  #198 (permalink)  

Avoid imitations
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Wandering the FIR and cyberspace often at highly unsociable times
Posts: 12,226
I would point out that any autonomous aircraft operating in an air traffic environment like the one we have currently will have to allow remote access to its FMS. This is the only way that route changes and other ATC constraints can be conveyed. Therefore many of the concerns regarding hacking into the system remain valid.
Precisely. If this isn't done, how will an aircraft be ordered to "go around" or enter a holding pattern? As I wrote before, what is technically achievable from an engineering stance is one thing, but fitting fully automated aircraft safely into the existing infrastructure is another kettle of fish altogether.
ShyTorque is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 16:45
  #199 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Home
Posts: 3,400

The fact that some military UAVs, particularly the little ones have "20 minuter" lifespans is utterly irrelevant.

Nobody is suggesting loading them up with passengers.

The ME262 had a huge death rate and engine life spans in single figures, yet within 5 years the Comet was airborne.

Where the military goes, the civvy world follows in aviation.


Humans need data just as much as computers to make a decision, unless you have mystical powers.

Don't hang up.

I totally agree.
I think the problems are not technical so much as integrational.

I think the biggest problem will be the transitional phase. I think the initial integration will be very dificult to organise, and as said earlier, ATC is crying out to be computerised.
It is probably easier to computerise ATC first.

The difference is that I think despite the difficulties that it will be achieved within the next 20 yrs.

Last edited by Tourist; 4th Dec 2014 at 18:23. Reason: To make it less nonsensical!
Tourist is offline  
Old 4th Dec 2014, 16:59
  #200 (permalink)  

Avoid imitations
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Wandering the FIR and cyberspace often at highly unsociable times
Posts: 12,226

Humans need data just as much as humans to make a decision, unless you have mystical powers.
Sorry, that seems totally nonsensical to me!
ShyTorque is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us Archive Advertising Cookie Policy Privacy Statement Terms of Service

Copyright 2018 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.