back to article Boeing preps pilotless passenger flights – once it has solved the Sully problem, of course

The days of listening to the captain speaking on a flight may be numbered, according to Boeing. The aerospace giant has been actively working on pilotless technology and has already built an automatic take-off and landing system into its newest model, the 787 Dreamliner. The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    So there'll be a pile of Dreamliners on the bed of the Hudson after all the test landings.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      I would also expect a pile here and a pile there scattered about New York City. I remember an old saying about a lot of little piles being better than one big pile.

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        Oh I don't know, it's just one place to put the cream rather than having to spread it around.

      2. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

        Arlo Guthrie may disagree about the number of piles thing.

      3. Robert Heffernan

        Remember Alice?

        I always thought it was "And we thought one big pile is better than two little piles, so rather than bring that one up we decided to throw ours down"

    2. InNY
      Trollface

      Might make building the extra required tunnels between NJ and NYC easier. Just glue the fuselages' together...

  2. Notas Badoff

    Some edits

    "Next year, Boeing is planning to do some test flights with an autonomous airplane, albeit one loaded with pilots and engineers rather than passengers valuable people like executives."

    "The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots people will to work for low pay under insane conditions, so Boeing every company is looking for a high-tech solution."

    The above is a generic statement that fits *every* industry these days, yes?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some edits

      aka protecting our bottom line

      p.s. sorry, forgot to say that the safety of our passangers is of TOP priority!

      1. macjules Silver badge

        Re: Some edits

        "passangers" [sic]

        Surely you mean "self-loading cargo"?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Some edits

          Self loading, ready to eat meals if some of them survive the mountain crash.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Some edits

      Well, it definitely fits the pattern of start-ups that have a business plan requiring the salaried employees to work 70+ hours/week to break even.

  3. Bob Rocket

    The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

    The industry is facing a severe shortage of people willing to work at the sharp edge for the miserable pittance and shitty working conditions on offer, just like IT.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

      Not even that.

      Boeing is still taking personally the fact that two of its aircraft were used to perform architectural modifications on the New York skyline.This is more about "you are not ramming this aircraft into this building even if you wanted to" than about shortage of pilots.

      1. Dr Who

        Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

        @Voland. I'm with you. Pilots are the single biggest cause of aviation disasters, accounting for half of all plane crashes. The fleshpots are the weakest link. They get hung over, tired, are easily confused and get disorientated in very bad weather (think Air France where the pilots flew the plane into the Atlantic without even knowing they were doing it).

        The Scully events of this world are vanishingly rare. To set that event up as the minimum standard for autopilot abilities would be like setting it as the minimum standard for all human pilots, which would clearly be ridiculous. It was a heroic and brave event, but a very rare one.

        1. RPF

          Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

          Pilots are blamed when they cannot recover from a (most-likely) systemic failure. That could be bad weather, lack of experience/training/currency, fatigue (through tiring rosters and a company that doesn't care/piss-poor regulator like EASA), ATC issues, engineering, all sorts. As the last line of defence, they usually get the blame ("they should have saved the aircraft"), but almost always it is a huge line-up of "holes" in the system that lead up to an accident.

          On the surface, AF447 was "pilot error", but the Pitot probes were known to be faulty (and replacements were in the hangar for years) and the second officer had almost no real stick-time (all done in the simulator, so no-one knew he would freeze in panic in a real aircraft), etc., etc..

          Pilots make probably thousands of saves per day world-wide; usually by anticipating systemic failures early and heading them off before anyone even notices. Mistakes are obviously made, but error-detection and error-recovery methods are probably the most rigorous in any industry.

          I don't think that an automated system is going to get anywhere near as capable as a human for a long, long time. I certainly won't fly in one, ever.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

          And that's the thing. Once X is automated to the highest standards then it's to the unemployment line for everyone.

    2. Nolveys Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

      @Notas

      @Bob

      Exactly.

      "The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots"

      Try paying them money! You know, that might work.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

        Try paying them money! You know, that might work.

        Salaries don't look bad in the UK compared to what you;d make in IT. My guess is that the common decision to expect pilots to pay for their own training has choked off supply, in which case airlines have only got themselves to blame.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

          > Salaries don't look bad in the UK compared to what you;d make in IT.

          Depends very much on the company: RYR pays well from the get-go. Others range from very decent (for those with lots of experience, usually very few or no vacancies) to below minimum wage.

          Then there is pay-to-fly, which is where they literally sell the right seat to someone who in theory is suitably qualified (but skill levels may vary) for a set number of hours. EZY used to be very enthusiastic about this source of revenue, they probably still are.

          > My guess is that the common decision to expect pilots to pay for their own training has choked off supply

          The common (but by no means universal) decision to have pilots pay for our own training has *not* chocked off supply. In fact, there is and there has always been a massive *oversupply* of qualified pilots. In my experience, the problem is that it seems to be one of those jobs that attracts a lot of daydreamers and people who lack one or more of skill, maturity, motivation and attitude.

          More and more these days, people with the necessary qualities are presented with much better opportunities elsewhere so why put up with the increasing amount of grief and frustration present in an industry which is a favourite target for political posturing, thanks to its high visibility, and where margins are becoming increasingly narrow, with correspondingly vanishing perks. I speak from personal experience here (plus not being a great fan of early starts or commuting to airports).

        2. Vic

          Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

          My guess is that the common decision to expect pilots to pay for their own training has choked off supply

          There's no shortage of pilots. They're queueing up to get at ATPL jobs.

          An acquaintance of mine recently got a job as a captain for Ryanair. He got quite a sweet deal - but the FOs there are on zero-hours contracts, and they *still* have a waiting list.

          Vic.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

            They're queueing up to get at ATPL jobs

            Well, once you've got your ATP licence, which will usually have cost you (according to CAA) the fat end of £100k of your own money, you'd be quite keen to take any job. If you did a university degree before your ATPL, then you'd have about £50k of student debt on top.

            I'm amazed that people would actually pay that sort of money, since the sort of salaries you'd get in the first few years aren't that brillant, so the actual return on your investment is a bit dubious. And that's before the dropout and failure rates.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

      > The industry is facing a severe shortage of people willing to work at the sharp edge for the miserable pittance and shitty working conditions on offer, just like IT.

      Except that, just like IT, it is NOT facing a shortage of willing people. Capable people? Well, that's a different matter.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

      Just outsource it all to India. It seems to be working for IT.

      What can go wrong eh?

      boom.

      Oh, and don't foget to progamme in how to avoid the drones flown by numpties close to airports. It will only need one to take out an engine on a 'heavy' A-380 on take off for this silliness to disappear down the plughole.

      1. Steven 1

        Re: The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots

        Not sure you gave much thought to that before you hit submit.

        There's a reason large aircraft have more than one engine, even at MTOW losing an engine shouldn’t compromise the ability to get airborne in a controlled manner and level off at a safe altitude.

        Notwithstanding an uncontained failure, in which case it somewhat depends on what the hot spinning bits hit when they depart the engine case – kinetic energy being a cruel mistress and all that. Hydraulic lines and passengers don’t take kindly to being hit with fragments of compressor disc.

        FWIW people caught flying drones in controlled airspace should be hung from the nearest bridge.

  4. inmypjs Silver badge

    Remote pilots?

    I would have thought remote piloting (isn't there already plenty of drone technology to support this) in emergencies would better cover tricky situations like deciding to ditch in a river.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Remote pilots?

      One slight problem with this. Most problems would not allow remote access to solve (power failure etc).

      It really just adds additional complexity. As a perfect example, see Googles (and others) test of HDD (or SSD now) drive numbers.

      "The drives might break at some point, so let's just add a few more as backup..." turns out, you get diminishing returns. I forget the number, something like 8 (a collection of), and adding any more, and you get more failures than you are replacing and spend too much time rebuilding the arrays/servers. Keeping the number of parts down keeps the reliability up.

      Some exceptions are made, for example NASA and space exploration. Mainly because they need remote access to begin with. But even then most have 3 backup systems to control, and not to everything, as adding twelfty of them and more things start to go wrong. SpaceX may even be using the opposite. Example, a large engine cluster with known failure rate. But the difference is they are going for lots of one type of thing. So likewise an aircraft with 30 odd turbo props (as with some electric designs) has a more safe failure state.

      1. Remy Redert

        Re: Remote pilots?

        Part of the diminishing returns wrt drives is that every time a drive fails, you have to stop running or run at a significantly reduced capacity while you replace the damaged drive and rebuild the array.

        In airplanes, a high MTBF is a great advantage, but safety forces you to land in most cases if you lose a single engine, even if you had 8 or 10 to start with. The Falcon 9 on the other hand doesn't have any such option. It either completes the mission or it fails. Adding more engines increases the risk of an engine failing, but significantly reduces the risk of the mission failing

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Remote pilots?

          SpaceX having more of the same type of engine on their rockets does two things. They get an economy of scale building one basic engine core and a couple of nozzle variations and the engines are not so large that they have to be made with bespoke machine tools. If their big@ss lathe breaks, they could fine another company with one and contract out if they need to. The F1 engine used on the Saturn rockets required the building of one-off machine tools first. During the space race, the Soviet Union used multiple small rocket engines as they weren't having any luck getting really big ones to work properly.

      2. herman Silver badge

        Re: Remote pilots?

        An array of redundant aircraft isn't going to help the passengers, especially if you want to cut them up and spread their parts across the planes.

    2. DNTP

      Re: Remote pilots?

      One fairly valid argument against emergency remote piloting is the number of incidents when a cockpit pilot achieves an effective emergency maneuver that other pilots, of equal or greater technical skill and experience, cannot easily replicate in a simulator. "Feel" for the handling of the craft, acceleration, vibration, ambient noise, even odor are all real factors unable to be reproduced remotely, and their integration may give the pilot that incredibly thin margin of survival.

      1. Commswonk Silver badge

        Re: Remote pilots?

        @ DNTP:

        One fairly valid argument against emergency remote piloting is the number of incidents when a cockpit pilot achieves an effective emergency maneuver that other pilots...

        A non - staffed flight deck, resulting in a need for "remote piloting", inevitably means that there would need to be an external radio interface to facilitate that remote control, and an external interface means a convenient entry point for a malicious attack - a hack on an unthinkable scale.

        Just prior to the "Remote Pilots" part of this thread Voland's right hand wrote Boeing is still taking personally the fact that two of its aircraft were used to perform architectural modifications on the New York skyline.This is more about "you are not ramming this aircraft into this building even if you wanted to" than about shortage of pilots. Having an external interface makes "architectural modifications" more likely, not less, with no risk to the perpetrators.

        The need for "remote control" would be greater than just taking over in an emergency. Departing or arriving flights often have to "hold" at a designated point whilst an other aircraft (or even more than one) clears the runway; that "hold" can be on the ground or in flight ("holding pattern") and those holds occur under the direction of ATC; given that necessity,"remote control" would turn out to be a routine requirement that was available more or less all the time from any number of locations, albeit not all at the same time.

        The security implications of fully automated flight with no human interface on the flight deck are truly terrifying.

        1. inmypjs Silver badge

          Re: Remote pilots?

          "and an external interface means a convenient entry point for a malicious attack"

          You mean like the current weaponized military drones? I suppose the military never even considered getting bombed by their own drones because the enemy hacked into their comms link?

          Half the internet being insecure shit doesn't mean everything has to be.

          "The security implications of fully automated flight with no human interface on the flight deck are truly terrifying"

          As terrifying as Tomahawk and Gryphon missiles carrying nuclear warheads?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Remote pilots?

          There would need to be remote access in some form or another. Planes would need to talk to air traffic control to get flight orders, this could be used to direct planes to their doom. If no air traffic control planes would need to talk to each other, this would be an easier target.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Remote pilots?

        > "Feel" for the handling of the craft, acceleration, vibration, ambient noise, even odor are all real factors unable to be reproduced remotely

        We already have full motion sims. What if we add smoke generation devices, maybe a couple flamethrowers for added realism?

    3. Remy Redert

      Re: Remote pilots?

      Who would you trust to implement remote piloting in a way that is safe and yet can still be accessed in an emergency? Remember, lots of people will need the key because the remote pilot will have to be relatively close to the airplane in distress, otherwise latency means it's only giving instructions to the auto pilot instead of actually flying.

      Any remote control facility is open to abuse. The risk is higher the greater the impact of abuse, the lower the quality of code and the more people need access to the remote control option.

    4. tfewster Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Remote pilots?

      Ding! You have a new ticket, flagged "Urgent"

      OK, let's log in and check it out. Hmm, Dreamliner, that's a 16 char password, remote into Boeing password database to retrieve the password...Right, we're in. Let's see - Altitude 300ft, both engines out - f***, must be time for my break, let someone else deal with this ticket - It's not like my life is on the line.

      The alternative, having one trained pilot on board but out of the loop, isn't much better:

      Ding! Computer says "Emergency, over to you". Huh, whut? OK, hit "override", check status, get a feel for the controls - lessee, the 787 has a worse turning circle but better glide characteristics than the 767, this one feels like 200 passengers with just a weekends luggage, got it now...

    5. Smooth Newt
      Happy

      Re: Remote pilots?

      I would have thought remote piloting (isn't there already plenty of drone technology to support this) in emergencies would better cover tricky situations like deciding to ditch in a river.

      I would prefer the person in control to be sitting up front with their skin in the game and not in an office somewhere playing After Burner. It provides a stronger incentive.

      1. Scoured Frisbee

        Re: Remote pilots?

        No reason you couldn't have constant / frequent simulated or replayed emergencies going on the remote pilot console, just halt the emergency at random if it's not live so you never know until the end if you got interrupted with a real one. I could see some benefit to having an expert in fatal crash situations piloting the craft, and making the whole thing one constant game would keep the remote pilot sharp for the real life situations.

        Obviously that doesn't solve the connectivity problem but it's not completely silly. I'd love my pilot to be assisted by a remote emergency specialist, I just don't want to be on the plane where the remote pilot decides "oh this can't be real" and turns us sideways into the Atlantic.

        Speaking of, I haven't read Ender's Game in a couple years.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Remote pilots?

        > I would prefer the person in control to be sitting up front with their skin in the game

        As we like to remind those concerned about the way we fly: pilots are the first to arrive at the scene of the accident.

    6. Avatar of They
      Stop

      Re: Remote pilots?

      Lets not forget the plane running out of fuel and gliding 60 miles from 41000 feet. Both pilots skill and experience are the only reason it landed.

      http://www.nytimes.com/1983/07/30/us/jet-s-fuel-ran-out-after-metric-conversion-errors.html

      It was power failure due to fuel loss so any remote ability would have disappeared.

      1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Remote pilots?

        It was power failure due to fuel loss so any remote ability would have disappeared.

        Until the RAT (Ram Air Turbine) kicked in automatically and provided power for the key controls.

  5. Boohoo4u

    No pilot?

    OK. As long as they train the stewardess on how to hold down the power button for a systems reboot.

    Also, the system reboot needs to be performed after every flight to avoid memory issues...

    Simulation AI: (memory corruption) What are all these buttons and levers for? Let's push the RED one and find out.

    And, there's a lot of bugs to be worked out... currently the AI pilot has a tendencie to see/recognize campfires on the ground, and attempts to put them out with jet fuel. Warning... logic error fire detected in the (log)cabin.

    1. joed

      I believe that Boeing hasn't worked out yet all the kinks with their fancy lithium batteries. Now they want to add mission critical kit relying on those. Makes sense.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "As long as they train the stewardess on how to hold down the power button for a systems reboot."

      Stewardess? That's an easier problem to solve. Catering will be self-service before the pilots go.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Catering? What catering?

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Flame

        Can't we keep the stewardesses, and make the piloting self service?

        Everyone gets on the plane and it's taxiied to the end of the runway by one of the stewardesses. Meanwhile all the passengers are playing Microsoft Flight Simulator (or possibly Ace of Aces off the Amstrad CPC464) on their seatback entertainment systems. The one who scores highest, gets to fly the plane.

        What could possibly go wrong?

  6. HildyJ

    Will a computer get it wrong? Yes. Do pilots get it wrong? Yes.

    Taking the Sully incident, a computer could have responded more quickly to the engine failure, calculated more quickly and more accurately whether the plane could reach a runway, and (theoretically) ditched the plane in the water as well as Sully did. However a Sully is more capable of choosing the water landing although I suspect he is in the minority of pilots when it came to making that choice.

    Redundancy is important. But replacing the copilot with a computer makes sense.

    1. Commswonk Silver badge

      Redundancy is important. But replacing the copilot with a computer makes sense.

      No it doesn't. Having two pilots on the flight deck means that on long flights one can be flying the aircraft (or at least keeping an eye on things and being fully "situationally aware" ) while the other rests. Reduce that to one pilot and that capability disappears. Do you really want just a single pilot on the flight deck for (say) a 14 hour flight? I would suggest that in those circumstances the single pilot would struggle to perform adequately should the need arise.

      Redundancy in aircraft systems is there for a reason, and I can see no compelling reason why that redundancy shouldn't include a second pilot. In fact I can see compelling reasons why it should.

    2. Craig 2

      A computer can respond much more quickly to all previously known problems, it's the UNKNOWN ones where humans generally perform better.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        A computer can respond much more quickly to all previously known problems, it's the UNKNOWN ones where humans generally perform better.

        Maybe. But you need to consider the instances where a computer wouldn't have actually caused the crash (like the twit who snapped the tailplane off AA 587 or the expensive near miss for the Townsend's RAF Voyager), or where things go wrong, but a set of fallback routines would probably have done better than for example the panicky meatsacks of AF447.

        Do a search on Youtube for "aircraft crash", and the vast majority of the gruesome footage can be attributed to human error that a computer wouldn't be likely to make. My ghoulish favourite is AF296, although fortunately "only" three people died.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Ledswinger, In your research you will also find that the computer assist in an Airbus jet wouldn't let the pilot avoid the trees at the end of the runway after a low pass at a Paris(?) airshow.

          1. Jez Burns

            MachDiamond, the point of controversy in the Paris airshow case (if it's the one I'm thinking of) is how / if the computer assist arguably responded to make worse a dire situation caused by human error (or breathtaking negligence) in the first place. An AI - assuming an effective one could be built - would not have gotten into that situation. Even then it's not clear anything could have been done to avert the disaster once the wheels had been set in motion.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    shortage of pilots

    The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots, so Boeing is looking for a high-tech solution.

    and here i was, thinking that the industry is facing a severe shortage of spaces to cram more passengers into. removing the pilots and the equipment needed for them to interact with the on-board computer will free up enough floor space for at least three, and possibly four more cattle-class rows. alternatively, it will let the airline to sell some "business+" seat upgrades with a nice forward view. an added bonus is of course that the automated pilot does not need paying and is not subject to the flying and rest hours regulations.

    i am all in favour of automation, but let's be honest about the motivation here.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: shortage of pilots

      it will let the airline to sell some "business+" seat upgrades with a nice forward view

      If that's a money making opportunity, why doesn't the A380 have upper deck front windows?

      1. Rafael #872397

        Re: money making opportunity

        The days of listening to the captain speaking on a flight may be numbered, according to Boeing.

        Hi folks, this is your artificial pilot recording speaking, and, since you can't bring laptops and tablets inside the cabin anymore I will, for the length of this flight, interrupt the feeble excuse for entertainment we provided to let you know about exciting offers our company's affiliates have just for you. Brought To You By Carl's Jr.

      2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: shortage of pilots

        To be honest, it is surprising that planes still have any windows for the passengers. Presumably the extra material to strengthen the fuselage around each window is still slightly less weight than the screen that would be required to replace it. Can't be long, though.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: shortage of pilots

        They'd take out all of the windows if they could. Nothing but maintenance problems and structural flaws.

      4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: shortage of pilots

        If that's a money making opportunity, why doesn't the A380 have upper deck front windows?

        Windows are something any aircraft designer would love to do away with: improve body strength, reduce weight, and better AC. There are already plenty of design studies illustrating the advantages.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: shortage of pilots

          But I believe plenty of studies ALSO show that claustrophobia is a pretty common phenomenon that get aggravated the longer one remains unaware of the outside. Basically, a lot of people won't fly unless they can SEE they're flying. Also, due to many people bringing their own devices, in-seat monitors are actually on the way OUT, not IN (lot easier for them, too--fewer electronics to get past the certification process).

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Emergancy action is the problem.

    But to put this in perspective look at an aircraft with a much wider operating envelope.

    Normal Space Shuttle takeoffs were completely automated. The "pilot" was there in case something went wrong but SOP was the whole flight, from take off to orbit was under the 4 live GPC and 5th GPC running separate S/W written by another company.

    "Autoland" S/W was available from about the 3rd flight and could have been used, however a pilot was required because key tasks like lowering the landing gear and drag chute deployment were irrevocable and felt to need human judgement. Later a cable was developed that could be used to land the Shuttle entirely uncrewed in the event of severe on orbit failure. In fact it was never used. The pilots claimed it did not feel like the simulator and would take too long to get the feel of the vehicle in the event of an emergency. BTW since Shuttle was entirely fly by wire the "feel" was entirely generated by the GPC. There were no direct connections (which IIRC is true of even airliners today).

    But TBH most of this was because Johnson insisted when the system was designed that it had to be crewed, in order to keep an astronaut corps in existence after Apollo.

    So I think the 2nd pilot will become less common but that leaves the question of how do you give live experience to train the future airline pilots of tomorrow? Entirely simulator based?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Emergancy action is the problem.

      There is already a big problem with pilot training, as demonstrated by Air France.

      These days commercial pilots have exactly two jobs:

      1) Program the autopilot. Trivially replaced.

      2) Catch the plane if the autopilot can't. Very hard.

      They are only there to handle emergencies, and so should be primarily trained in flying the plane in emergency situations - dead VFDs, failed/lying instruments, and fewer engines, wings and other aerodynamic components than the flight started with.

      Commercial pilots never need to fly the plane in good conditions.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Emergancy action is the problem.

        "Commercial Pilots never need to fly the plane in good conditions."

        Your argument applies to military pilots, too. Hardly anyone just flies airliner-sized craft "for fun" and so the end result is (or will be) that the only truly qualified pilots in the world will be the test pilots who work for the manufacturers. Turning their knowledge and experience into an algorithm may be Hard, but it is probably a safer option than hoping that relatively untrained meatsacks can somehow learn on the job in a crisis.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Emergancy action is the problem.

        > These days commercial pilots have exactly two jobs:

        Richard, as a commercial pilot with airline experience, I am sorry to have to tell you that you have not the faintest idea what pilots do or, more generally, how the industry works.

        Please consider not embarrassing yourself in the future with such nonsense.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Emergancy action is the problem.

          @AC Hurray for personal insults!

          If you would care to enlighten those reading the thread, I'm sure everyone will be eternally grateful for the superb and incontrovertible expertise of those not even willing to give a pseudonym.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Emergancy action is the problem.

            Correction: 3 jobs.

            3) shag the cabin crew.

          2. Steven 1
            Trollface

            Re: Emergancy action is the problem.

            "those not even willing to give a pseudonym" - says the Anonymous Coward

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Emergancy action is the problem.

      "So I think the 2nd pilot will become less common but that leaves the question of how do you give live experience to train the future airline pilots of tomorrow?"

      Two pilots are a minimum. With only one, they might nod off or start texting like train drivers.

  9. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    We are currently awaiting the loading of our compliment of small, lemon-soaked paper napkins for your comfort, refreshment, and hygiene during the flight, which will be of two hours duration. Meanwhile we thank you for your patience. The cabin crew will shortly be serving coffee and biscuits… again.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Nice Douglas Adams reference but you left out the part of the passengers regaining consciousness and all of the screaming and clawing at the restraints.

  10. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

    No matter how good the safety record - how do they persuade people to get on the plane?

    There is no way on this earth I am getting on a plane that does not have a human driver *on the plane* and in control. I don't *care* if all he does is program the autopilot and push the go button: I want the responsible person for a flight to share the risks.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

      So if you have to take a transoceanic flight and ALL the planes are robotic, you'd sooner quit your job?

    2. druck Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

      I'd rather trust a live pilot with 1/10th of the skill of Sully on the oldest ricketiest plane still allowed in the air, over the latest modern aircraft with no pilot on board, speaking as both a passenger and a private pilot.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

        So, like I asked, if you had no choice, you'd sooner not fly even if your job depended on it?

        1. Down not across Silver badge

          Re: There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

          So, like I asked, if you had no choice, you'd sooner not fly even if your job depended on it?

          Absolutely. In fact, I'd already refuse to fly to US if I was asked. If refusing to fly would lose the job, then so be it. There are more jobs if need be.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

            > Absolutely. In fact, I'd already refuse to fly to US if I was asked.

            Welcome to the club.

            Refusing any assignments that involve flying into, over, or through the US since 2000. :-)

    3. PJD

      Re: There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

      "No matter how good the safety record - how do they persuade people to get on the plane?"

      Price. For an airline, removing the need to hire, manage, keep trained, handle payroll, benefits, retirement, pay for hotel rooms between flight legs etc of a whole corps of pilots is going to save a lot of money. And at least initially until passengers get used to it, passing that savings on to ticket prices may be a pretty good incentive. LA to San Francisco for $30 instead of $70 is attractive..

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

        Price. For an airline, removing the need to hire, manage, keep trained, handle payroll, benefits, retirement, pay for hotel rooms between flight legs etc of a whole corps of pilots is going to save a lot of money.

        It's going to save some money, sure. But I doubt it's very much in the grand scheme of things.

        Lets say you pay your pilot £100k a year. That works out to about £50 an hour. Quadruple that to cover admin costs, a lower paid co-pilot and some expenses and you get £200 an hour. So even on a long-haul flight that's going to end up being less than £5-£10 per passenger added to their ticket price.

        Compared to the massive costs of fuel, maintenance and the horribly expensive planes themselves - or even the in-flight catering (if available) - it's just not that much. You're still going to require cabin crew, until the cattle passengers are loaded on drugged in coffins "sleep crates" - so you're still stuck with all the admin and expenses.

        Thinking about it, I wouldn't be surprised if landing fees cost as much as the pilots.

    4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

      There are plenty of things for which I wouldn't trust a computer but flying planes isn't one of them. They're already almost entirely automatic and I'd be happy to fly in one that was. Not only are humans bad at long periods of sustained concentration, we're also really bad, despite our prejudices otherwise, at responding quickly and correctly in emergency situations unless we do this routinely.

      Yes, there are all kinds of risks associated with this kind of automation but on balance I think these are mostly at air traffic control, maintenance and ground-handling.

      1. druck Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

        The risks are anything software designers couldn't think of at the time. Take the old classic of the perfectly Airbus that ran off the end of a runway in Poland.

        First when the aircraft touched down, ice on the runway meant the wheels didn't start turning.

        A computer controlled safety feature meant that because the wheels weren't turning, the spoilers didn't deploy.

        Because the spoilers didn't deploy, and produce drag and down force, the weight on wheels switches didn't trigger.

        A computer controlled safety feature meant that because the weight on wheels switch wasn't active, the thrust reverser's wouldn't activate.

        So you are on an icy runway, brakes don't work, spoilers don't deploy, and thrust reverser's don't active, so welcome to the snow bank past the end of the runway.

        All the computer controlled safety features were reasonable in isolation to prevent past proven causes of pilot error, but the software designers had not expected that combination of events.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

          > Take the old classic of the perfectly Airbus that ran off the end of a runway in Poland.

          From your description, it sounds like the one where the pilot made a really smooth landing. A bit too smooth in fact.

          Since then, procedure has been changed and the advice is to go for a firm landing on contaminated runways. There were also other recommendations concerning other aspects related to runway design, maintenance and monitoring.

          1. toughluck

            Re: There's something fundamentally important they're missing.

            Since then, procedure has been changed

            Oh, goodie! In other words, it's perfectly fine to have an accident because it's not going to happen again thanks to updated procedures, correct?

            Luckily nobody was killed, but would you have the balls to go and tell grieving relatives that the cause of an accident was perfectly preventable and it will not occur in the future because procedures were changed?

  11. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    We are currently awaiting the loading of our complement of small, lemon-soaked paper napkins for your comfort, refreshment and hygiene during the flight, which will be of two hours duration. Meanwhile, we thank you for your patience. The cabin crew will shortly be serving coffee and biscuits… again.

    1. smudge Silver badge

      Thanks, we got it first time round.

      You don't have to repeat it for nine hundred years :)

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge
        Joke

        Umm, if you are complaining about the repetition then I don't think you did get it first time around.

      2. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

        I have no idea how that got posted twice. I corrected the spelling of 'compliment' but must have posted by accident before doing that. Weird.

  12. 20TC

    One "flight director"

    As a regular flyer, in the last, say, 3 years, I have not been on a flight requiring major pilot flying intervention. I mean failed engine, plane divert, go-around, etc. However, I have seen the pilot out of the cockpit 3 times to sort out unruly or distressed passengers.

    I'm confident that autopilot and AI can fly a plane better in emergencies than some of the less experienced pilots.

    So I see the pilot as being the director of the flight who can also assist in the cabin when the plane is in normal cruise. That gets the cost saving that the airlines demand.

    2x pilots, 1x Cabin Director, 2x stewards becomes 1x Flight Director, 2/3 x stewards

    And, if at 30,000 feet the engine fails, the autopilot will take care of the shutdown in the minute it takes to get back to the pilots seat.

    Maybe we will start with a "rule" that cockpits only need to be manned below 10,000 ft?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One "flight director"

      > As a regular flyer, in the last, say, 3 years, I have not been on a flight requiring major pilot flying intervention

      Yes you have. Each one of your flights.

      > I mean failed engine, plane divert, go-around, etc

      It is not just abnormal situations that require human decision-making and intervention.

      > I'm confident that autopilot and AI can fly a plane better in emergencies than some of the less experienced pilots.

      It is difficult, and rather pointless, to make a non-technical distinction between manual and automatic flying on any modern airliner, since the HMI (human-machine interface) is so tightly integrated. In a way, an airliner is never flying neither completely by hand nor completely by the computer. The combination of human decision-making, cooperation and oversight, technical systems, training, and procedures is what underlies and enables safe and efficient performance of complex activities, such as commercial air transport.

  13. gregthecanuck
    Terminator

    Star Trek flashback

    I can see it now... AI-powered jetliner hits the Hudson...

    A round emergency exit bursts open at the top of the cabin. A glittering spherical object is expelled with great force and carried aloft by a drone powerplant.

    Been watching too many Borg re-runs lately.... :)

  14. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    Its not just a man/machine interface you are replacing

    One of the core functions of a pilot is interfacing with the cabin crew - who get right busy if things are going badly - and to a lesser extent with the passengers.

    Id encourage people to read about how CAPT Richard Champion de Crespigny of Qantas kept his pax and crew informed and calm during an uncontained engine failure incident on an A380. As an engineer flight 32 is of great interest to me because damage from the initiating event greatly exceeded expectations. The aircraft remained aloft but the damage was significant. Hundreds of discrete failures of varying levels of veracity were reported ... most were bogus because of radical remodeling done to several wiring harnesses. The second officer painstakenly troubleshot these issues one by one to get a good estimate of the system state, and the Captain concentrated on flying, communicating, and executive level decisionmaking (we are in no immediate danger... do not make mad dash for a runway... learn how to maintain control of the ship...) Classic cockpit resource management... and also why you have 'redundant' personnel up in the pointy end.

    The pilot and crew kept calm, informed the pax what was going on, and basically requalified their new aircraft config in a test flight sense, rehearsing the landing and all. Post flight the CAPT debriefed the pax, gave out his personal number to alcon in case people needed someone to talk to, etc. Airbus should be commended for putting together a great machine that kept flying despite abuse, but give Qantas its due for hiring and promoting a great man.

    Given how poorly Ive seen extremely complex systems hand untested and/or totally unanticipated or 'impossible' inputs I really wonder what the outcome would have been? Immediate attempt to land given unknown data quality and aero performance? Who explains to the pax and cabin crew whats going on.... bearing in mind that panic doesnt have good outcomes?

    So here is your real problem: CAPTs de Crespigny and Sully arent born overnight. What we see is the result of years of training and, yes, probably more than a few screwups. In the name of operational and fuel efficiency today's pilots are not always allowed to hand fly and develop experience... so how go you grow men and women with balls of steel? In a zero defects environment how do you develop the mental skills needed when all hell breaks loose? AND ... how do you keep the crew of a craft on autopilot for hours on end engaged enough to (a) see that its going to hit the fan before the autopilot gives up and chucks the aero machine back into your hands and (b) have enough of the system's state vector estimated that you can actually achieve anything when (a) happens?

    THAT to me is the real challenge.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Its not just a man/machine interface you are replacing

      But you're still making the assumption that the computer won't (or can't) come to the same conclusions in the same circumstances. For every Flight 32 you cite, we can cite back a Flight 447 and probably one more on top, given human error is the most common type of aircraft incident (consider one of the most common: Controlled Flight Into Terrain). As for human interaction, isn't that why there's still the idea there's at least one human still in the cockpit?

      1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

        Re: Its not just a man/machine interface you are replacing

        Yes you have an excellent point concerning human error. What makes it complicated though is that one can argue - and the investigation reports do so - that problems like AF447 are not so simple as a human merely screwing up, but have elements to them of poor man machine interfaces. If a human does not understand what the machine is doing - or vice versa - you are set up for trouble. Many air crashes have occurred this way - perhaps one could argue that half-done automation is worse than full automation? Where does one draw the 'enough' line?

        Its not just aviation, either. One could argue convincingly that the Three Mile Island nuclear plant would not have had a core melt if the humans had left the machine well enough alone. Sure, there would have been flooding an so forth due to the stuck PORV, but most likely it would have taken care of itself. On 1970's tech. But the man/machine interface was totally awful and the rest is history - multibillion dollar write off.

        Thanks!!

        -BC

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @AC - Re: cite back Flight 447

        If I recall correctly, the whole drama has been started by auto pilot and/or plane computer when the Pitot tube could no longer provide altitude and speed information. How would AI react in the absence of sensor information ? Yes the crew was inexperienced but the on board computer did a lot to confuse them.

        And you can find a lot of other catastrophic examples when the computer decided to do things that interfered with pilots trying to save the plane.

        1. Vic

          Re: @AC - cite back Flight 447

          If I recall correctly, the whole drama has been started by auto pilot and/or plane computer when the Pitot tube could no longer provide altitude and speed information

          Sort of. The frozen pitot tube was a minor inconvenience that the pilots should have dealt with - but didn't.

          How would AI react in the absence of sensor information ?

          In that particular situation - the AI would have done what the Flight Manual details as the correct procedure, and the whole problem would have been over within 60 seconds.

          AF447 wasn't caused by a frozen pitot. It was caused by pilots ignoring their training.

          Vic.

  15. Nathan 13

    I dont think

    That the public would get onto an aircraft that didnt have at least 2 fully qualified pilots in the cockpit, not in my lifetime anyway.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: I dont think

      Not even if it made an otherwise-unaffordable flight affordable? After all, everyone has his price...

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: I dont think

        You seem determined to consider pilotless flight the only option, Charles 9.

        I'll be long retired before it ever comes to pass - but what's your connection? Why so determined?

        (For what it's worth: those who have seen my past posts will likely be aware that I'm a paraglider pilot. You can learn to fly a paraglider in a fortnight, if you're taught well and have good coordination. But to learn to fly a paraglider well, and safely in all (flyable) conditions, and to do the safe/sane thing with the wing folds itself up mid flight, for whatever reason? That takes years. And the paraglider is *so* much less complex than a widebody jet.

        Halfway between the hard stuff and the vacuum is easy. Staying there isn't *usually* too difficult. Landing and taking off... guess where the majority of incidents happen?)

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: I dont think

        "Not even if it made an otherwise-unaffordable flight affordable? After all, everyone has his price…"

        At the point where flying becomes totally unaffordable due to needing to employ pilots, the CEO needs to take a pay cut. Air travel is not a right. If you can't afford to fly, that's not the airline's fault. They've been trying so hard to pack more and more people into a plane and subtracted more and more things such as meals and checked luggage that I am more than happy to drive 2,000 miles. If it takes too much time, maybe I don't really need to go. One of these days we may have transatlantic passenger service by sea again instead of just luxury cruises.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: I dont think

          "They've been trying so hard to pack more and more people into a plane and subtracted more and more things such as meals and checked luggage that I am more than happy to drive 2,000 miles."

          Fine. Show me how one can DRIVE from Los Angeles to Honolulu...AND BACK...in less than a month.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I dont think

      > not in my lifetime anyway.

      That can be taken care of.

  16. Voyna i Mor Silver badge
    Coat

    Obvious solution

    Do what the ocean carriers do. Just helicopter the pilots on board to deal with tricky situations.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Obvious solution

      Harbor pilots just deal with "takeoffs" and "landings". A harbor can change in ways that can't be seen from the bridge of a ship so it takes a local expert to safely navigate large vessels in and out of port. Airports don't have the same problems.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Obvious solution

      > Just helicopter the pilots on board to deal with tricky situations.

      Helicopters are too slow to catch up (for most of the flight), plus they are expensive and unreliable.

      Catapults on the other hand...

  17. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Meat Computers

    People can handle changing situations much more flexibly than a computer. If the Tower at an airport broadcasts to all planes that there has been an accident or attack by voice, a pilot can abort an approach and immediately plan a diversion to a nearby airport that can handle the plane they are flying.

    What happens when a junior programmer at BA goes to recompile the internal instant messaging system and it takes the flight control system offline? 168 holes in the ground or a buzzer going off in a cockpit telling a pilot that he has the con? Don't tell me that some some self-professed computer expert MBA hasn't told you to heap some minor application on an "under-used" mission critical system.

    If GPS/GLONASS or ground guidance system goes offline, a pilot should be able to manually fly their plane safely to either the intended destination or an airport that can handle them (or a long stretch of highway if it's that bad). The scenario is not that outrageous. If the DPNK's fat little spoiled brat follows through on his threats to launch a nuclear tipped missile at somebody (US probably), the big red OFF switch will get slapped at GPS headquarters putting the system into military only mode. GLONASS commercial service may also go offline at the same time. Inertial navigation will work to keep the plane going to it's destination, but it will accumulate larger errors at time goes on and may not know where it is well enough to put down on a narrow strip of concrete.

    The other arguments about a remote pilot not being able to "feel" the aircraft are valid. I've seen air crash programs where the data on the flight recorder doesn't seem to make any sense. This is the data that would be feeding into a an automated system or be relayed to a remote pilot. A pilot on the aircraft would be able to tell, we hope, that the plane is not inverted even if sensors are making that claim. A remote pilot will have to believe what's being presented or have no hope at all of accomplishing anything.

  18. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    All valid points

    Actually AF447 is a good test case for what you are asserting. Its far from a 'pure' pilot error issue - yes, the pilot flying kept a nose up attitude forcing full stall all the way to the earth. But that was already very deep into the accident sequence. The true initiating event is a dumb design flaw in t the pitot tubes used on the accident aircraft. They iced up... badly... and the aircraft lost most speed information and the autopilot disconnected. Airbus' automation, arguably the best in the industry, CANNOT fly an aircraft without speed data. It seems fairly clear the human crew struggled with the change to alternate control rule and its obvious inappropriate elevator inputs were provided and that made the aoa data iffy. That led to a full autopilot disconnect because there is no way the automation could fly the aircraft with no speed inputs and questionable aoa. One thing that might have helped would have been of the aircraft had a Boeing-style yoke assembly. Both move together and if you are the pilot not flying having the column land in your lap from an inappropriate command from pilot flying might be a clue that he is screwing up. I say 'might' because its amazi.g what can be missed under stress. Airbus uses side sticks with no visual or tactile feedback so it is not obvious what inputs are being applied. You might argue that this design decision was yet another initiating event but (a) yokes have their own issues and (b) lets have an intelligent discussion rather than a Boeing/Airbus preference flame fest. Both make outstanding products.

    Bottom line: pilot action ultimately doomed AF447 but the worlds best automation had already thrown in the towel. Its not clear to me how to fly a heavy - esp near the coffin corner of its envelope - without trustworthy airspeed.

    Its tough to find pure pilot error drive fatalities - leaving aside homicidal nutjobs. About the purest dumb error crash I can think of is Eastern 401. Went down in the Everglades when everyone was troubleshooting a nothingburger problem and nobody was flying the plane. And that was a reaaaaly long time ago. The other Everglades lawn dart - ValueJet - was also human error but from the some idiot loading O2 generators. No automation in the world could have helped those people - they were just totally doomed before departure. Sometimes ¿[=[£ happens. Poor guys :(

    1. Vic

      Re: All valid points

      Airbus' automation, arguably the best in the industry, CANNOT fly an aircraft without speed data

      Oh but it can - and without pilot intervention, it would have done so.

      What it cannot do is to provide pitch envelope protection without pitots. That's why it switched to Alternate Law. But the procedure for frozen pitots is to set nominal power and fly straight and level for one minute. Had the pilots done this - as they'd been trained to - or had they just left the bloody plane to fly itself, AF447 would have de-iced its pitots, and the situation would have been resolved.

      the worlds best automation had already thrown in the towel.

      Not so; the automation was working reasonably well, but permitted the humans to over-ride it. Then the humans did several utterly stupid things that were explicitly against their training.

      Its not clear to me how to fly a heavy - esp near the coffin corner of its envelope - without trustworthy airspeed.

      Have a read of the Flight Manual - there's bound to be one online somewhere. Such eventualities are covered...

      Vic.

      1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

        Re: All valid points

        Will do; appreciate the point! Thanks -BC

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: All valid points

        >Airbus' automation, arguably the best in the industry, CANNOT fly an aircraft without speed data

        >Oh but it can - and without pilot intervention, it would have done so.

        No it can't because at that point the autopilot disengaged because it was PROGRAMMED TO when it lost the airspeed sensors, therefore it CAN'T FLY THE PLANE!!

        1. Vic

          Re: All valid points

          No it can't because at that point the autopilot disengaged

          It did no such thing. It switched into Alternate Law.

          Vic.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Automated pilots?

    I'd be happy with a consistently working seat-back entertainment system!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Automated pilots?

      Just bring your own tablet. Selection much more to your tastes and under your control. That's the reason many airlines are abandoning the seat-back monitors in future refits (plus it makes the certification easier without so much electronics).

      1. BoldMan

        Re: Automated pilots?

        Except when they ban tablets and make you check them into the hold...

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Automated pilots?

          If there's no in-flight entertainment on a transoceanic flight, there's probably going to be a passenger revolt. There's a reason they haven't banned ALL liquids from flights.

  20. Tom 64
    Terminator

    One big nope.

    I would not get on a plane unless it had a qualified human crew on board.

  21. Citizen99

    " "We've got to be as good as zero," he said, speaking of the number of deaths the public would tolerate. "

    Shirley that ain't ever gonna happen.

  22. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    This isn't news

    It's open secret that the whole aerospace industry has been working for years to replace pilots because they are expensive and unfortunately unreliable (this is a general meatware problem not specific to pilots). The black boxes don't just collect data for working out what went wrong in disasters but what works when there are problems.

    We've had decades of heroic propaganda about pilots so expect lots of PR designed to to defuse any fears associated with the inevitable first flights. The real heroes are the engineers who have learned from the disasters to build the remarkably resilient planes that we now have.

    Though I suspect the threat of litigation will keep pilots in planes in the West so that the first scheduled flights may well be in China. Huge market to those who get it right first.

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: This isn't news

      I don't think anyone who can remember the slew of recent "issues" with various automated space probes could say that human pilots look bad when compared with automation systems and keep a straight face.

      Airlines complain they have too many pilots and won't hire. Boeing claims too few and wants to put the same sort of system in the cockpit of the next flight from Heathrow to JFK as piloted the Martian Core Or Bust mission. Who to believe?

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: This isn't news

        Who to believe?

        The one with the best PR.

        They'll run planes on full automatic for years before retiring the pilots. By then we'll be used to cars, trains, trams and buses driving themselves.

        Here at Düsseldorf airport the driverless overhead railway was an expensive joke for years until they ironed the problems out. I think driverless trains are now becoming the norm for fully isolated services.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This isn't news

      > It's open secret that the whole aerospace industry

      It is not an "open secret", because it is not true in the first place.

  23. DrXym Silver badge

    Before you board

    Just make sure they have adequate supply of lemon-soaked paper napkins or you might be there for a while.

  24. Cuddles Silver badge

    Bit of a vicious circle

    "The industry is also facing a severe shortage of pilots"

    If you're struggling to get enough pilots, telling everyone that you're working on a way to eliminate that career entirely might not be the best way to get more people to sign up. Who is going to spend several years and an awful lot of money to qualify for a job that might not exist by the time they're done?

    1. BoldMan

      Re: Bit of a vicious circle

      As has been mentioned before this is a lie in the first place, what they mean sis a shortage of qualified pilots willing to work for a pittance.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    take your pick

    Slob to the sun flights will be pilotless with limited compo if we crash to get the low price. Millions will of course do this just like they cant be arsed to book travel insurance.

    1st class will have a pilot although no doubt easily distracted by flirting with flight crew and possibly slightly drunk.

    Savings will be made here with poorly trained co pilots who get up and down mixed up.

  26. Dabooka Silver badge

    Such a pessimistic bunch

    My first purchase in Elite was always a docking computer and that saved me countless lives (well, reloads). So fully automated flight control has a proven track record right there.

    All this worry for nothing!

    1. Richard 26

      Re: Such a pessimistic bunch

      OTOH, there was a few times when I engaged the docking computer after a long mission, gone for a break, and found it making a hopeless mess of the final approach. Even in Elite, the docking computer wasn't foolproof.

  27. Andus McCoatover
    Windows

    Forgotten the obvious?

    We seem to be talking about lack of pilots, aircraft reliability, etc.

    But...as a passenger, there's NO FUC*KING WAY I'm getting on a flying machine without a couple of folks at the front, and a few well-trained Flight Attendants on board. Oh, and an Air Marshall, in case some nefarious terrorist decides to (somehow) CTRL-ALT-DEL at final approach.

    Manufacturers and airlines may love the cost-savings.

    Passengers will simply vote with their feet - and wallets.

    -Simples.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Forgotten the obvious?

      "Passengers will simply vote with their feet - and wallets."

      Until there's no other choice but to NOT FLY. Meaning no more transoceanic trips unless you've got a few WEEKS to spare.

      And BTW, what happens when it's the PILOT that crashes the plane? I know of a few post-9/11 incidents where the crashes were deliberate and done by the pilots themselves.

      1. BoldMan

        Re: Forgotten the obvious?

        ...and fucking THOUSANDS of flights where the pilots were not psychologically damaged nutters who managed to fool the airline HR dept.

        Lets replace the HR departments with Robots - then they'll be infallible!!!

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Forgotten the obvious?

          But ONE bad flight spoils the whole party, and no matter who is doing the vetting there is by definition no real way to distinguish an honest person from a lying sociopath because the latter can lie believably: even fool a polygraph.

  28. Andus McCoatover

    Well, with computers flying the thing, and (presumably) no flight attendants, at least you won't be dragged, screaming and bloodied from the thing.

    As long as the robots realises the difference between 'at airport' and 35,000 feet?

    - Just asking...

  29. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Stupidest idea ever.

  30. Buttons

    Vox Pop

    I asked my better half if she would fly on a pilotless airliner.

    "F*ck no!" she said.

    Also if pilots are in short supply, why don't airlines train more?

  31. naive

    High risk for Boeing

    Lots of things can be tested on cheap drones, such as capabilities of the software to deal with technical issues which may arise mid flight.

    Due to the complexity of the technology, it is inevitable that things will go wrong, even if it only was because the computer was fed data from a faulty sensor.

    In case an automated plane crashes, Boeing is the sole supplier of the pilot and the plane, and could face several law suits for damages, which may run into countless millions in case a sizable plane went down. The only way to dodge this would be the maintenance procedures used by the airline.

    In case Boeing is serious about building such a system, it is interesting to see how they are going to manage the risks implied by it.

  32. JJKing Bronze badge
    FAIL

    Programming Otto for unforseen incidents.

    I want to know how they could possibly program Otto to handle an unprecedented even like United 232? I believe all the pilots they stuck in the simulator that replicated that even never even made it as far as the airport.

    If there is only one pilot on board, what happens if he has to choose between the chicken and the fish? Either choice will be wrong.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Programming Otto for unforseen incidents.

      But did they give some computerized "pilot" the same test to see what IT would've done? Your words seem to indicate that humans in general perform poorly when crap hits the fan and that successes like you describe are more down to luck than anything. Remember, you have United 232...and then you have Air France 447. Or maybe I should cite Korean Air Flight 801. Or any of a slew of others where pilot error was at least a significant if not the key factor.

  33. Andromeda451

    No way

    With the just good enough mantra in silicon development and the oh so excellent software, I'd rather walk than trust my life to a CPU and code developed by the lowest bidder, tested by a bunch of people to a test regime bearing no relationship to the real world. If I'm paying for a flight I want a real crew on the flight with their skin in the game just like mine. just sayin'.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: No way

      Have you ever thought that if this were true throughout the electronics industry (INCLUDING the avionics industry), there would be a LOT more air crashes today?

  34. Turgut Kalfaoglu

    no no no

    A truly bad idea.. I won't be flying a pilotless plane any time soon.

  35. David McCoy

    Human Pilotless Plane? I don't think so, Tim.

    Humans are erratic, prone to error and can break down at any time for any number of reasons, but a human with training and experience can think outside the box, and create solutions where a computerised system will find none.

    A human pilot also literally has skin in the game when things go wahoonie-shaped.

    A computer has no conciousness, no desire for self-preservation. If the algorithms say,“you're S.O.L pal.', it won't even try to come back with, “think so? Well watch this!”

    when they can program a flight system with that attitude, I'll consider getting on a human pilotless aircraft.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Human Pilotless Plane? I don't think so, Tim.

      "Humans are erratic, prone to error and can break down at any time for any number of reasons, but a human with training and experience can think outside the box, and create solutions where a computerised system will find none."

      They can also MAKE THINGS WORSE, have you considered? You keep thinking Steely-Eyed Missile Men. I keep seeing Barney Fife, and history indicates the latter's more likely than the former.

      1. David McCoy

        Re: Human Pilotless Plane? I don't think so, Tim.

        I consider that every time I have to have surgery, but I trust my regular surgeon to have the knowledge and experience to do what he considers at the time the best by me. I feel the same way about the people sitting in front of the shiny metal tube that contains me and 200+ fellow meat sacks at 20000 feet. A human will keep trying up until the end. I would trust a human over a computer any day.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Human Pilotless Plane? I don't think so, Tim.

          "A human will keep trying up until the end. I would trust a human over a computer any day."

          Not always. They could have a brain fart. Or panic. Do you really want a panic-prone meatbag with your life in his/her hands? Consider Air France 447 and Korean Air 801, both pretty much caused by incompetence in otherwise-highly-seasoned pilots. Plus consider all the stuff you pass through or use everyday that probably doesn't have a human at the controls. There are driverless trains now. If given that you STILL trust the human, then you're basically trusting your gut over your brain unless you can demonstrate a situation where a human WILL beat the computer, 100% (thus proving Boeing's goal impossible, a la Turing's Halting Problem proof).

  36. a20axf

    Forgetting the human cost?

    How about actually helping potential pilots with funding then see the pilot shortage become a non-issue!

    If technology does all the jobs then how are humans supposed to get a job role in future? Sometimes technology isn't applicable for every situation...!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Forgetting the human cost?

      Be careful. Some people WANT a population crash so the planet isn't stressed so badly.

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