Airbus is looking for certification for an aircraft able to perform a fully automatic take-off, the only phase of any flight still needing a pilots gentle touch. Could be seen as a giant leap for aviation, apart for the ambition behind it. Automation does not need visibility, and the few flights per year cancelled due to heavy fog would be able to take off as scheduled. That is not the major ambition. Pilots need a few hundred feet visibility to be perfectly happy, and full automation would pave the path for the wet dream of the industry radicals – the pilot-free aircraft.
It must be stated here that anyone not believing in progress – like internet would be a temporary fling – will eventually be proven wrong. Even so, if you are worried about the thought of entering an aircraft without pilots, you can rest assured that it won’t happen in the near future and not with present infrastructure. It is hard to see an aircraft figuring out how to handle an engine failure halfway over the ocean, avoid sudden turbulence, chose a landing site with bad wether all around, deciding on a intermediate landing to offload an unruly passenger, make an emergency landing due to smoke in the cabin etc.
On top of that, service on board would have to be fully automatic, since no cabin crew in their right mind would fly without their pilots. They know facts about flying. Some don’t, including those planning for the change. Even more worrying is the fact that the ambition is not for any industrial improvement, apart from not having to pay pilot salaries. That would be a sales pitch for any aircraft manufacturer, greater than Boeings latest ”no-need-for-simulator-training” för the MAX. Since flying can never be made free of charge, the reasonable principle would be to stop cost-cutting where it doesn’t affect safety. It has progressed past that point long ago, and consequently has to be reversed rather than continued. It is reasonable to believe that at least one big player tends to agree today, after the possibly greatest loss of money for any company in modern history.
Cost-cutting has infected the industry. Budget airlines like Lion Air is allegedly chummy with the Indonesian government enabling safety short-cuts in all areas of management including maintenance and training. The US government is today worried about the already ill-reputed FAA’s too friendly ties with budget Southwest Airlines. In order not to kick somebody already down, one should not blame the latest tragedy in Turkey on Pegasus being a low-cost airline. Time will as always tell, but there are numerous threats imaginable to any such airline, like tired or inadequately trained pilots, low fuel reserves or company pressure to land rather than divert. What a fully automatic aircraft would have done that evening is up to any ones imagination.
The old story (the ideas have unfortunately been around for a long time) went something like; ”Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome onboard this fully automatic aircraft. Sit back and relax, and rest assured that nothing can go wr…nothing can go wr…nothing can go wr…..