Instead of a pilot in the cockpit, how far are we from having commercial airplanes with remote pilots (like drones)?

  • The remote pilot won't have any kind of space disorientation
  • Each of its actions would be scrutinized in real-time
  • pilot could be swapped every t time, so you'd always have a rested pilot
  • less costs, all remote pilots could have a 9-17 type of work. The airlines would just pick one in the matching time zone
  • the cockpit could be converted into a 1st A class space

Is there any situation where the pilot needs to feel the airplane, maybe not to override the information from instruments, but to complement it?

I'm aware that this might be a big no-no for some passengers, but how far are we of implementing this in a cargo airplane?

  • $\begingroup$ Related: Could the CVR and FDR record to the cloud?. Aircraft sending flight data to the ground would be a prerequisite for controlling it from the ground. $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Jan 30 '20 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ "The remote pilot won't have any kind of space disorientation" neither will they have any situational awareness. Piloting drones has been occasionally likened to "looking through a straw". $\endgroup$ Jan 30 '20 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ Remote pilots certainly would have spatial disorientation. And what happens to the remotely-piloted airplane when the communication fails? While I'm not entirely sure about e.g. transoceanic airline flights, there's a lot of airspace in the US west where a light aircraft has no radio contact with ATC. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jan 31 '20 at 3:48

The concept would be a hard sell for both passengers and non-passengers alike. You not only risk lives in the air, but on the ground as well. I would not want a fully laden B747 flying above me. The biggest reasons are:

The human pilot in the cockpit has a vested interest in performing a safe flight. The vast majority of pilots are not suicidal (99.999%). The remote pilot on the ground does not have the same incentive.

Any computer system can be hacked. This would turn said B747 into a weapon.

A remote pilot does not significantly lessen the chances of human error. The remote pilots are still human. And, the programmers of the software needed to make remote piloting possible are equally human.

Satellite communication is not entirely fool-proof. It would have to be perfect to be considered safe enough to warrant that hazard. The current GPS interference is an example of that. That is one of the reasons why GPS is still considered non-precision for flight. You have to have the capability to use traditional NavAids even when you are using GPS.

When (not if) crap hits the fan (or fan disk), and there is a systems failure, the best chances to preserve life is to have the human pilot in direct control. Think of what happens in an electrically power failure, a systems shutdown, a loss of communications capabilities, etc.


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