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Would You Take a Pilotless Flight?

From Travel Pulse

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Pilotless planes may be the ultimate catch-22.

By Patrick Clark

According to new research from UBS, a transition to pilotless commercial flights could save the aviation industry billions of dollars. However, it turns out that only a fraction of travelers would be willing to board an automated flight.

The new UBS report determined that the airline industry could save as much as $35 billion per year by doing away with traditional human pilots. It also found that only 54 percent of people would agree to take a pilotless flight, including just 17 percent of travelers from the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Australia.

"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," said the UBS report, according to CNN.

Though the technology necessary to enable pilotless flights is still years away, there are numerous hurdles the industry would have to clear in order to make it happen.

Remote-controlled planes could exist by 2025, but automated commercial flights likely aren't possible until beyond 2030. Additionally, the industry would likely face significant backlash from pilot unions and have to overcome strict air traffic laws.

Currently, pilots spend only a few minutes manually flying aircraft. However, they are constantly monitoring and adjusting the aircraft's systems while on autopilot.

Even if the savings of cutting out pilots were passed down directly to passengers, it's unlikely they would be significant enough to sway disconcerted travelers to board a pilotless flight. According to CNN, airfare would be 11 percent cheaper in the U.S.

Nonetheless, if there's a potential driving force behind pilotless flights, it's the daunting number of new pilots needed to operate new aircraft as well as fill the void left by soon-to-be retiring pilots.

CNN Money reported commercial and cargo airlines around the world will need 637,000 new pilots between 2017 and 2036. U.S. pilot retirements are also expected to spike in the next decade, increasing demand for human pilots in the event that automated flights don't become reality.

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