With all of the effort currently under way to attempt to create driverless land vehicles (which I believe may be a rather misplaced effort) has anyone yet heard of any serious efforts also being made to one day try to eliminate passenger jet pilots as well? As a former private pilot myself, such a thought seems rather ludicrous, but just wondering. It seems to me the elimination of humans from overseeing human safety concerns such as flying or driving, would simply be "unsafe."

  • $\begingroup$ Serious is relative and open to interpretation. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Jun 7 '17 at 7:34
  • $\begingroup$ There are cases where automation is simply safer than human, and autonomous cars are possibly a good example. Experimentation is in progress, and under a strict legal framework. I wouldn't be surprised the ratio of accidents is already better than for the average (and tired) driver. just an opinion. The number of accidents in aviation has decreased with fly-by-wire and FMS. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Jun 7 '17 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ In many cases, autopilots tend to outperform humans when it comes to precision and attention... when they work as they should. Automation tends to be ineffective to adapt to unexpected/unforeseen circumstances. Especially when it comes to conflicting sensors. The ratio of accidents caused by human vs automation is well in favour of automation. But there are no statistics being kept (unfair) how many times the human on board prevented the automation from a fatal crash. I've personally had to intervene twice with one of the most advanced autopilots in the business. $\endgroup$
    – Chris V
    Jun 7 '17 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, standard auto-pilot, when used on long duration flights at straight and level, actually enhances safety. But to then actually try to eliminate all actual onboard human oversight, whether or not this has yet been proven to enhance safety, is what I was trying to get at here. $\endgroup$ Jun 7 '17 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ Personally, it is my best guess that should anyone ever try to force "driverless semi trucks" on the rest of the driving population, before they might first have been proven to be reliably, clearly, and undeniably safer than the human-driven ones, would be "suicidal" for the "driverless movement" amongst technologists. I personally suspect that such "proof" is still most likely several decades away, and not mere years away. With aircraft, my guess is we may be looking at "generations" away and not years. Sorry for the "opinion." $\endgroup$ Jun 7 '17 at 19:59

Serious discussion of removing passenger jet pilots? No.

Serious discussion of making pilotless VTOL aircraft? Yes.

Uber, for one, is already working on this. Check out this quote from page 40:

To fast-forward to the safest possible operational state for VTOL vehicles, network operators will be interested in the path that realizes full autonomy as quickly as possible.

  • $\begingroup$ Uber, Airbus (x3), Lilium, ... $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Jun 7 '17 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ A pilotless aircraft would be like an army where the commanding officers stay home to command remotely. Not only an act of cowardice, but also not good for the army's actual quality of command, as it seems to me that "armchair quarterbacks" whether robotic or not, will never take the place of real quarterbacks, nor should they. Having the "general" near the front lines has always impoved the safety of the troops, and the effectiveness of the army. So having responsible human operators of vehicles where human safetynis at possible risk, will always improve the safetynof the humans. $\endgroup$ Jun 7 '17 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ If you ask me, anyone who would attempt to remove a responsible human operator from an aircraft, by definition is creating unnecessary safety risks for the human passengers left behind without any human pilot to watch over them and to necessarily risk his or her own life at the same time in the process of assuming such a responsibility, in the course of their occupation. Sure, where ever human safety is not affected in any way, automate, but where human safety is affected, direct onboard human oversight should be retained. $\endgroup$ Jun 7 '17 at 8:42
  • $\begingroup$ Hi @ScottFrancisPerry, welcome to Aviation.SE. We like to talk about only one thing at a time around here. Your comments seem to be about whether there should be pilotless aircraft, while your original question (and my answer) are about whether anyone is considering pilotless aircraft. $\endgroup$
    – Steve V.
    Jun 8 '17 at 4:32

In my personal opinion, there are several reasons why pilotless commercial passenger jets won't or at least shouldn't happen anytime soon.

  1. You can only program a computer to handle an x number of situations. Better computers can perhaps handle some unexpected situations, but not as well as humans can. Then of course there are going to be unknown bugs in the software/hardware. So someone needs to be able to take control if the computer no longer can handle the situation. If this person is on the ground, this must be done through a network connection (be it through the internet or otherwise). If that person is able to do it, another organisation will be able to crack it. If they cannot secure the NASA and/or the Pentagon well enough, they can't secure an airliner sufficiently. Therefore I believe there should always be at least one person on board who can take control
  2. The fairly recent Germanwings crash where the copilot locked out the captain and crashed the aircraft to kill himself and get his name in the books by killing all people on board shows that if there is one pilot in the cockpit of such jets, there should always be a second pilot.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.