Real Answers from Real Pilots

Self-flying planes

I understand that much of flying a plane is automated, but it has become a growing concern to me that fully self-flying planes will be coming soon. We basically have all the technology to do something like this, and I believe Boeing said that they are working on it already. How much of a serious threat do you think this is? Especially with self-driving cars being just around the corner.

Brandon,

Take a look at this article I wrote, it address some of your concerns: Hand Flying at the Airlines

I do not feel that there is any threat at all from self flying airplanes. When I was a kid I was told that we would have self-driving cars by now, that certainly has not happened. Trains still have engineers, and I can tell you first hand that airplanes need two pilots. Even the drones that the military has need pilots. I really wouldn’t worry about this.

Chris

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Brandon,

I’m 53 and for as many years I can remember they’ve been promising self-driving cars (which is much simpler than airplanes). Still haven’t seen them yet? Will it happen? Yes but it won’t be any time soon. Boeing simply bought a drone company, nothing more and the press is doing what they do, trying to create news.

Adam

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Adam,

They have self driving cars already, Tesla I believe makes one. The said car was on the news not because it was a self driving car but, because it drove itself into the back of a semi. I don’t think I’d trust a self flying plane if they made them. I have seen a video of an Embraer jet that lands on auto pilot. Pretty cool? Yes, would I trust it, no way.

Jeremy,

You will have to trust the auto land, at many airlines it is required for CAT II and III landings. In extremely low visibility, it is the only way to legally land.

Chris

Jeremy we frequently use Autoland and the plane does a fine job. HOWEVER, the entire process is monitored by both pilots and if there’s any single anomaly, fault or failure we take over.

As for the cars the also have drones which have been much more successful. When I see one driving down the highway next to me then we can start getting nervous.

Adam

To @Adam’s point about the pilots monitoring the “auto land” capability, I was on a flight a few weeks ago and the landing conditions were rainy with low clouds. We were descending like normal, then, we weren’t. We aborted the landing. It turns out, as the pilots were monitoring the landing, two of the navigation systems weren’t in agreement on some of their parameters, so the pilots took over. We made it down safely the second time! :grin:

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Mardee,

And that right there is why I am not the least bit worried about automation replacing pilots.

Chris

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Ok, didn’t have any clue that planes had the auto land. There is a big difference in 2 people sitting there watching everything happen and people looking out the window while their car drives itself down the road. I guess my fear is more that I’m not in control of others people cars when they aren’t monitoring it

Hi Brandon,

I’m adding to this conversation not as a pilot (I’ve barely begun training) but with general information as a business strategist (my current profession).

Technology can, to some degree, be forced upon a market. With enough money for PR & marketing & government lobbying, anything is possible…to an extent; the market still has to want it.

Fact is several millions of people in the US are scared of flying. As long as enough of them live and fly anyway - albeit kicking & screaming or heavily sedated, we can safely assume they’d be even less inclined to step into a tin can steered by nobody, that they’d demand human pilots.

As the youngest millennials / digital natives grow up & start buying travel & that other segment dies off (literally) or becomes better acclimated to flying for whatever reason, we can safely expect the technology to continue exponentially improving and the demand for humans in the cockpit to decrease to at least some extent. But that’s YEARS.

Even when human demand decreases (of course it will… eventually) those of us who’ll have kept up with technology and the industry as a whole will have amassed valuable & transferable skills, especially if balanced with business, coding, or other skills.

We would, literally, have to have our technological evolution sped up considerably (e.g. teleportation suddenly became a thing & planes went the way of the horse & buggy in the next 5 years) for me, personally, to worry that my money here was misinvested. (Actually…even if that were to happen, I can’t say for sure I’d feel this was a bad investment, strictly for the fun & competence factor.)

Meanwhile, the industry suffers a tremendous pilot shortage - which is a huge professional opportunity for those of us training now…and that could include you :slight_smile: .

Bottom line: Whatever you do, make yourself as valuable as possible. Begin with that mindset & let that guide your track and actions.

Best,
Patricia

Chris,

I do agree that there is no imminent threat of self-flying planes in the current stage of this industry, however, I think that self-driving cars are starting to become an integral part of the car industry today. Tesla has already developed the technology for autonomous driving! (Not saying that one should rely 100% on a computer to drive you around) but, that being said, I feel as if the human touch of operating commercial aircrafts will always be a necessity in our lifetime!

I would agree. I have been hearing about self driving cars since I was a kid. I haven’t seen one yet.

Next time any of you are in Pittsburgh for a layover, check out the self-driving Uber vehicles. While they’re still “manned”, they are self driving, on real, live roads. Its impressive!

Hi all,
Just yesterday I saw this interesting video about this topic: https://youtu.be/k0yGOSZUHwA

It’s just the guy’s opinion, but I have to say I agree with what he says.
The main points he makes are:

  1. an airliner requires a “man-like” artificial intelligence to be flown, and this kind of technology doesn’t exist yet;
  2. even if this technology was already out there, it’d be extremely expensive for airlines to upgrade their fleets (we know how much airlines like costs), and it would take a lot of time for the new airplanes to get certified;
  3. governments would have to review, or even rewrite entirely their aviation regulations, and we all can imagine how long this may take… :smirk:

So, maybe robots will replace pilots in the future, but probably we won’t be there to see it happen.