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Passengers aren’t ready for pilotless planes, but cargo may be

Passengers aren’t ready for pilotless planes, but cargo may be article image

In a recent survey by Swiss bank UBS, more than half of the 8,000 people surveyed said they would not ride in a pilotless plane.

According to the survey, the pilotless plane could save airlines as much as US$35 billion per year – reducing the cost of highly skilled employees ($31 billion), related training ($3 billion), and fuel ($1 billion).

The deployment of autonomous technology could also result in significant fare cuts – an estimated one-tenth of the total in the US.

But UBS said passengers won't do it today, even if ticket prices were lower – a big hurdle to airlines, which the bank estimates could see profits double by using the technology.

Accordingly, the report predicts that air taxis and cargo flights will be first to fly without pilots.

Airlines now testing pilotless planes

Every major plane manufacturer is now testing fully automated jetliners.

In June this year Boeing revealed it was testing such aircraft in simulators and underscored that artificial intelligence could replace a portion of the tasks currently conducted by pilots.

The following month, Airbus announced it successfully completed trials of its Sagitta “unmanned aerial vehicle.”

Self-driven vehicles provide significant benefits to companies looking to decrease costs by removing labour from the equation.

Such reductions in costs may then translate to lower prices for clients, which would help the air cargo industry gain market share from other modes of transportation.

Industry resistance

In addition, it would also reduce the impact of a shortage of air pilots, which require extensive training and often work overtime to fulfill hundreds of trips.

However, the concept of self-driven vehicles has met resistance across industries.

Safety concerns prevail, as opponents of automation suggest technology is not yet capable of responding to emergencies and other drivers' errors as well as humans.

Other concerns include the need for cargo safety, with stakeholders arguing crewless ships, driverless trucks or pilotless planes cannot secure valuable products or respond to equipment malfunction.

But experts agree it’s only a matter time before these issues are resolved and cargo is being sent across the globe in unmanned aircraft and container ships.

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