In an interview with The Associated Press, Christian Scherer, Chief Salesman for Airbus, stated that Airbus is ready for autonomous flight. Airbus has proactively equipped their planes to fly without pilots in preparation for regulatory testing and approval. While Boeing targeted military applications, it appears Airbus took the lead on autonomous aircraft.
Airbus was noted yesterday, to have landed contracts worth billions at the Paris Airshow. The contracts for 100+ autonomous capable aircraft will be delivered to Virgin Atlantic, Middle East Airlines and Air Lease Corporation of Los Angeles, California. At this time there has been no mention of intent to pressure regulators for full autonomy but that could change with Airbus’ recent announcement around their capabilities.
According to Mr. Scherer, the only obstacle for autonomous travel at this point is winning over regulators and travelers, and a new study suggests that won’t be much of a challenge.
A lack of public awareness
According to ANSYS’ Global Autonomous Vehicle Study, only 7% of airline passengers realize that aircraft currently use autonomous technology at all. In the survey, once respondents were informed that only the first and last 10 minutes of their most recent flight were likely controlled by a pilot and the rest was autonomous, 36% said that they would feel much safer in a fully autonomous plane. 70% of people stated that they would trust an autonomous system for take off and landing too.
Age matters too
83% of those 18 to 24 year-old stated they would fly without a pilot while only 45% of people over 65 years-old would trust an autonomous plane. While 63% of people trust AI to fly, a lot of people are not fully convinced of autonomous aircraft safety. Those raised with advanced technology are significantly more likely to us AI powered travel, winning the rest of the public will take building a solid record of safety.
Regardless of age, the majority of people felt aircraft were less susceptible to hacking than bank accounts, computers and even self driving cars, and planned to travel on an autonomous aircraft at some point in their lives.
“When can we introduce it in large commercial aircraft? That is a matter we are discussing with regulators and customers, but technology-wise, we don’t see a hurdle….. Airbus already has the technology for autonomous flying and for planes flown by just one pilot. ” – Christian Scherer [ The Associated Press ]
The short term goal over the next decade is to have autonomous aircraft enter service targeting both intra-city and inter-city travel, primarily used in air freight and air taxi business models. Some companies will be sooner, such as Uber who plans to begin offering services under test in months, while Airbus plans to activate autonomous aircraft over the next few years.
“Further automation in large commercial jets will be gradual, first starting with single pilot operations, followed by fully autonomous operations,…. Undoubtedly, automation will continue to transform air transport, as it has done over the past few decades. However, it will have to overcome numerous challenges, starting with passenger perception, practical constraints as well as battery and propulsion technologies. ” said Priyanka Chimakurthi, senior research analyst at Frost & Sullivan.
As people come to trust autonomy both on the ground and in the air commercial air will be in the sights of manufacturers using AI like Airbus and Uber.
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