Real Answers from Real Pilots

Will piloting become automated?

Hi there. I’m a 26-year-old considering a career change. I have a friend who is concerned that the profession of airline pilot will become outdated soon.

Automated cars are the way of the future, and car automation technology is developing at an extremely fast pace. What do you think is the chance that airplanes will also become fully automated in the next generation or so?

Joseph,

Smarter people than me have been debating this for years but personally I don’t think it’s ever going to happen, ever. Automation is wonderful, is progressing and in truth it does much of the flying but the reality is it’s FAR from perfected. If something goes wrong in a car and the car stops it’s really no biggy, a plane in the sky is something else. Last week we received a memo that flights operating to ICN may experience complete loss of GPS due to N Korea being silly. We have redundancies and alternate means of navigation but when something like that happens for the first time the airplane is lost and requires pilot intervention. There have been several cases of aircraft systems dropping off, first thing that happens is the autopilot kicks off and essentially says “you guys take care of this”. Factor in the fact I don’t believe the public would feel warm and fuzzy boarding onto a drone. As the technology advances I do believe we may go to one pilot up front but that’s decades away as well. I be more worried if I worked for Casio and Canon making watches and cameras.

Adam

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Yeah I’m 15 who willing to become a pilot, im just afraid that once i start flying for the airlines in about 11-12 years will it still be the same or just more levels of automation

I found these projections by Boeing about the need for future pilots, technicians, etc. and according to them the future is still bright.

Joseph,

I really don’t see this being an issue, certainly not anytime soon. Technology is advancing, but there is a human element that needs to be part of aviation. Humans can make decisions in a way that computers never could, we can feel how an airplane is responding in gusty conditions, on snowy runways, etc. Humans aren’t always perfect, but I would sure trust myself to two humans flying an airplane than to a computer and the public seems to feel that way too.

As automation has increased in the railroad industry there has been a move by some railroads to reduce train crews from a conductor and an engineer to just the engineer. There is a very strong rumor that the Federal Railway Administration is about to formally require two crewmembers because they do not feel that the technology has advanced to the point where just one person should be running a locomotive. There are actually several similarities between the rail and aviation industries, if a train is too complex to be operated with just one person than an airplane certainly is, too.

Chris