I took a class at work this week with a professional UAV developer for the military mentioned that UPS and FEDEX are currently working on making their 767s completely autonomous. He said that he doubts that full automation would ever leave cargo transport and replace airline pilots. But he also mentioned that airline pilot positions are mostly automated any more and the pilots are only there for back up and logistical reasons. He mentioned that he sat through a simulator with a pilot for Delta and said that all the pilot had to do was taxi to the runway, press 2 buttons and the plane would do take off, touch and go’s and land without any pilot interaction. How much manual flying now-adays do pilots do in the airlines or is it really all mostly automated?
With all due respect, your UAV developer friend has no idea what he is talking about. Airliners, even the most advanced ones, are highly dependent upon human interaction. Head over to my “Flying the Line” section, there is an article there that I recently wrote about hand flying at the airlines, I think it will answer your question pretty well.
I’m with Chris and I think you’re friend is OVERLY simplifying. I’m very familiar with Delta’s fleet and I quite sure none of the Boeings or Airbus’ will takeoff by pressing 2 buttons. Now either your friend was “embellishing”, you misunderstood or he had no clue as to what he was looking at? In fact last year the FAA came out with a report requesting pilots to do MORE handflying to keep their skills sharp. I actually did a short leg in the A330 2 weeks ago and hand flew the entire flight.