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the aircraft and its systems. However, in the not-too-distant future,
we would expect to see a situation where flights are pilotless or the
number of pilots shrinks to one, with a remote pilot based on the
ground and highly-secure ground-to-air communications.”
Indeed, the aerospace sector has “already explored for two dec-
ades the opportunity of unmanned flight and fully autonomous
planes (without ground-based control),” UBS added, with remotely
controlled military drones already in service.
The aviation industry could save US$35 billion a year if it shifted
to pilotless planes, UBS said, but it also warned the road would be
long to gaining passenger acceptance, pointing to a survey that
showed only 17 percent of travellers are willing to fly without a pilot.
Pilot unions would understandably be concerned by the report
since airlines typically employ 10 pilots per aircraft, but it could also
be one way to deal with an anticipated pilot shortage in the coming
years. Boeing’s most recent forecast showed the world aviation mar-
ket needing 41,000 new planes between 2017 and 2036 and would
need 637,000 new pilots to fly them.
Boeing is not just looking at new technology to remove the pilot
from the aircraft in the long run, but in the short term it also threw
down the gauntlet to suppliers like Honeywell, Rockwell Collins
and United Technologies when it announced on 1 August it would
be setting up its own avionics division. This is unsurprising from a
business perspective because OEMs like Boeing and Airbus need
to calm the ups and downs of the sales cycle and are looking to
increase their revenues by adding more services and products to
their inventory. Avionics suppliers, unlike engine makers, typically
do not have many services contracts. By being able to increase
flight optimisation with technology, this would enable more “fly by
the hour ” types of agreements. Typically, “fly by the hour ” contract
margins are close to 20-25 percent versus 8-10 percent for original
equipment, according to the Aircraft Electronics Association.
As mentioned above, pilots themselves are less than thrilled with
the prospect of George taking them out of the cockpit altogether.
Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and author of the popular Ask the
Pilot blog, said in a previous instalment on pilotless planes that he
wasn’t against the “technological impossibility of a pilotless plane.
Certainly we have the capability. Just as we have the capability to
be living in domed cities on Mars. But because it’s possible doesn’t
mean that it’s affordable, practical, safe, or even desirable. And the
technological and logistical challenges are daunting to say the least.”
He said it takes more than 10 years to design, build and test-fly a
conventional commercial aircraft and that neither Boeing nor Airbus
has a new platform that can be flown by remote control. “Not only
that, but pilotless planes would require a gigantic — and gigantically
expensive — rebuilding of pretty much the entire civil aviation infra-
structure,” he added, “from a totally new air traffic control concept to
the redesign of airports. How many hundreds of billions would that
cost, globally? And that’s after developing a fleet of tens of thousands
of aircraft that are safe and reliable enough for autonomous opera-
tions. And you’d still need pilots to operate these aircraft from afar.”
UBS however, believes the shift to pilotless planes “could result
in improved flight planning and less waiting time at airports before
take-off and landing. Airports would also benefit from an ability to
handle increased flight movements, boosting returns. Furthermore,
greater automated flight path directions would simplify pilots’ tasks”.
The bank also said in its report that the “potential for pilot error
would be removed, along with decisions that at times may be led
by emotions. Furthermore, pilotless flight avoids the situation where
pilots of a commercial flight are incapacitated or may not be able
to perform their duties”.
All that sounds great, but getting into a driverless Google car is
one thing when you need to run to the bank; strapping yourself into
a plane that ’s going to fly at 40,000 feet is quite another altogether.
Editor’s Note: AR Prince contributed to this report.
Source: UBS estimates
Insurance saving Total saving
SUMMARY OF THE BUILDING BLOCKS TO THE $35BN OPPORTUNITY
10/08/2017 4:52:41 PM
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