Pilotless planes to fly passengers by 2030 as AI breakthrough announced

Pilotless planes to fly passengers by 2030 as AI breakthrough announced

Britten-Norman, Britain's only independent commercial aircraft manufacturer, said its ultimate goal was optional full automation which "should be realised within this decade"

By Berny Torre 09:13, 7 OCT 2020

Pilotless passenger planes are planned to fly by 2030, a company has sensationally promised.

Manufacturer Britten-Norman is to roll out single-piloted aircraft in five years and hopes to go fully pilot-free within a decade.

The Isle of Wight-based company said it will allow operators to offer "uncrewed and piloted" flights.

Britain's only independent commercial aircraft manufacturer said its ultimate goal of optional full automation "should be realised within this decade".

But pilotless planes will need regulator approval and will likely scare off passengers, the British Airline Pilots' Association said.

Britten-Norman this week announced it had teamed up with British autonomous flight specialist Blue Bear to develop the technology.

The two companies are to launch a project to automate Britten-Norman's Islander later this month.

It flies on commercial routes between Scottish islands and is used for passenger flights and cargo operations.

The twin-engine utility aircraft is also used for search-and-rescue and has a short take-off and landing capability.

The team behind the project said: "Eventually the system will allow the Islander to take off, fly and land without any human input but the first milestone will be an automated co-pilot which can advise its human operator."

Britten-Norman is also developing zero-emissions to cut fuel costs, and reckons autonomous flights are needed to keep regional airlines affordable.

It said regional air transport was often "underdeveloped and often forced to rely on subsidy. This is because regional air transport can struggle to be economically sustainable due to high operating and maintenance costs.

"Regional air transport will have to incorporate zero carbon and autonomous technology to make operations affordable and scalable."

But the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) said passengers wanted the "confidence of knowing that the controlling pilot is on board with them facing the same risks".

A survey of passengers in 2018 found that 63 per cent were "unlikely to fly in a pilotless plane".

More than half – 52 per cent – said they would be reluctant to fly in a single-pilot aircraft.

Brian Strutton, general secretary of BALPA, said it welcomed "all technological developments in aviation" but added: "We do not believe that any automated system is as capable as an experienced professional pilot in extreme conditions as these aircraft might encounter."

Autonomous passenger plane technology will need regulatory approval before being allowed to fly.

Britten-Norman already produces aircraft that are certified for single pilot flights.

They see some operators choose to or must use a second safety pilot.



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