Would You Fly on a Plane Without a Human Pilot?

The development of automated technologies clearly reduces accidents and incidents caused by human error; some airlines have gone so far as to require their pilots to use the autopilot feature during cruise flight because it performs more efficiently. In fact, a survey of Airbus and Boeing pilots found that they only manually fly about 3-6 minutes per flight, while the rest of the flight is in autopilot mode.

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Autonomous technologies can help reduce pilot salary costs. There are also proponents among airline manufacturers, who want to design new aircraft without having to worry about cockpit configurations. This redesign could lead to improved aerodynamics and a smoother ride, particularly for supersonic flight — the reason why the Concorde required its nose to come down during landings was that the pilots could not otherwise see the runway.

Studies coming out of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the Florida Institute of Technology have repeatedly shown that most of the public is not in favor of fully autonomous flight. A percentage of survey respondents are okay with the idea, however – particularly if they’re promised cheaper tickets as a result. Typically, men are more willing to fly in autonomous commercial airplanes, compared to women. People of Asian heritage are more willing to fly without a human pilot, compared to Americans. Younger adults are more willing compared to the elderly. People who are more knowledgeable about automation are also more willing compared to those who know little about it.


These early adopters will need to convince the rest of the public to agree before airlines start routing autonomous flights through major cities. Interestingly, most Americans are in favor of allowing autonomous cargo flights. They say that if they’re not on the actual airplane, they don’t have a problem with shipping a birthday present to Grandma via an autonomous cargo flight.

So, what would it take to get more people on board with the idea of pilotless commercial flights? Research into driverless ground transportation tells us there are two effective ways to convince the public to go along with the concept of autonomous transportation. The first is education. Studies show that when consumers know more about the autopiloting system, and particularly if the information is positive, they are more willing to ride in an autonomous vehicle. The second route is to demonstrate a consistent safety record.

What do you think?