Boeing mentions dropping the pilot

Future Boeing airliners might have two pilots, as now, one pilot, or none.

Boeing has raised the possibility of pilotless commercial aircraft, in a briefing ahead of the Paris Air Show.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice-president of product development, Mike Sinnett, told Geekwire there would be increasing demand for air travel and a potential shortage of pilots over the next 20 years.

This trend was pushing the company to look into autonomous options, Sinnett said. Boeing projects that 40,000 aeroplanes will be needed over the next 20 years to meet the demand for air travel.

‘More of those will be growth than replacement,’ Sinnett said during the briefing at Boeing’s Everett plant. ‘It begs the question, where are all those experienced pilots going to come from?’

Boeing’s military divisions, such as drone maker InSitu, have considerable experience in unmanned flight control and with largely autonomous civilian drones on sale for about $1000, ‘the basic building blocks of the technology clearly are available’, Sinnett told Reuters.

Sinnett, an engineer and private pilot, planned to take part in simulator trials of artificial intelligence autopilot software next year. However, the Boeing executive said he had an open mind: the study may conclude there is no safe substitute for a trained and experienced human pilot.

‘I would be perfectly happy if what came out of this whole study is that we need more pilots, and we’re going to commit to training and ensuring that we have the right levels of experience and competence,’ he said. ‘This isn’t a quest to take pilots out of the cockpit. This is a quest to ensure that the system maintains the same level of safety that we have today.’