Autonomous planes like their self-driving car counterparts will eventually save the society money but at huge economic costs over time too. But Swiss Bank UBS just conducted a research on pilotless planes and found that the move would eventually save close to $35b a year which is something that airlines would ordinarily cheer not putting loss of human jobs into consideration but there’s one big problem for the airlines no matter how good the figures look and it’s that passengers are not open to the idea.
“The technologies in development today will enable the aircraft to assist and back up the pilot in all the flight phases, removing the pilot from manual control and systems operations in all types of situations”.
The report says only about 17 percent of passengers are willing to fly on such airplanes. Of the 8,000 people surveyed, more than half said they were not willing to travel on pilotless planes no matter how cheap the ticket is. But not surprisingly when the survey is broken down further, we see that 27 percent of the people between the ages of 18 and 24 said they would be willing to fly on unmanned aircrafts while the figure is higher at 31 percent for those aged 25-34.
This might be because younger people might be more open to the whole automation idea compared to the older generation. A further look at the report says the French and Germans might be the least open to the idea of boarding an unmanned commercial flight and at 13 percent favourability, they fare lower than the 27 percent of Americans who say they would be open to the idea.
While the 17 percent figure looks low now, this could all change in the near future with awareness because as UBS puts it, the technology required to do this could be with us as early as 2025.
After safety, the next thing on the mind of most passengers would be cost and UBS says this technology brings both to the table because if airlines don’t have to pay pilot (they employ about 10 per aircraft currently) and maybe other crew members, the savings could eventually be passed on to the passengers in the form of reduced fares. On the safety side, they say this will reduce human caused cockpit errors which is believed to be the major factor in accidents.
Coming back to the Europe and America comparisons, the report says the average European passenger would likely see much lower incentives than their American counterparts in that European fares would likely drop by 4 percent while the American one is expected to be as much as 11 percent.
That said, UBS doesn’t think the technology won’t come to commercial airlines yet as they predict that air taxi and cargo will be the first to use it before the idea will be fully commercialised.
Lastly, while it doesn’t look particularly look good that only 17 percent of passengers say they would be willing to fly on such a plane but as UBS puts it, the big hope is that those aged 18-34 have a favourable opinion of it and since it stands in some cases as 31 percent, it is expected that this figure will grow as those in that age group grows older. This means those coming after them to fill the age bracket would likely have a much more favourable opinion of the technology.
After all, some planes already land with the assistance of computers while it is perceived that pilots only manually fly airplanes for a few minutes per flight.
The big challenge for the idea to take off besides perception would be government regulations.