Pilotless Planes Could Be A Reality By 2030
An Isle of Wight aircraft manufacturer has announced it has begun work on a redesign of its flagship aeroplane that will be fully autonomous by 2030.
That’s right; within the next decade we can expect autonomous mobility to transcend cars and take to the skies, with the latest partnership between Britten-Norman and air autonomy specialists Blue Bear.
Britten-Norman is the UK’s only independent aircraft manufacturer and it has started to redesign its flagship plane, The Islander, to become the world’s first pilotless aircraft.
The company will first design the plane to fly with a single pilot assisted only by an autonomous co-pilot, which will be developed by the specialists at Blue Bear.
According to Britten-Norman, this advancement alone would ‘present a significant efficiency increase’ and save costs for regional air operators.
This first semi-autonomous effort is due to take its maiden flight in the mid-2020s, before the fully autonomous version makes its debut by 2030.
William Hynett, CEO of Britten-Norman, said in a statement:
We have become used to the ‘car of the future’ incorporating green and autonomous technology, the future of aviation will undergo a similar revolution. Blue Bear is the leading light when it comes to air autonomy technology, it is an absolute privilege to be partnering on this project. The whole Britten-Norman team is very excited.
Britten-Norman said the regional air travel sector is relatively underused and underdeveloped, due to the high costs associated with operating regional flights compared to coach, train or car travel.
It added that the adoption of autonomous regional aircraft is ‘critical to the UK’s levelling up agenda’, and presents very attractive alternatives for transport between the UK’s regions and cities.
In addition to autonomous technology, the manufacturer said the industry must also embrace zero-emission energy in order for the transport method to, ahem, take off.
The Britten-Norman Islander first took to the skies 60 years ago, and thanks to its short take-off and landing capacity it is a firm favourite for medevac and search and rescue operations.
The idea of fast, affordable and easy air travel will be exciting for many, but sounding the alarm is the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), which said the technology will likely scare passengers away and would require regulator approval before anyone could take a trip in one.
Speaking to the Daily Star, BALPA added:
[Passengers will want the] confidence of knowing that the controlling pilot is on board with them facing the same risks.
In a recent digital magazine published by BALPA, the topic of pilotless air travel was the subject of a feature written by Dr Simon Bennett, director at the Civil Safety and Security Unit at the University of Leicester.
Inevitably, technologies that support single-pilot operations will harbour latent errors – system failures in waiting. When those failures occur, there will be no first officer on the flight deck to help out. There will be a pilot on the ground who may – or may not – have the bandwidth and situation awareness to support the captain.
Bennett later cited the infamous Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes as a reason to steer clear of autonomous air travel. He also claimed airlines that adopt the technology are not prioritising their passenger’s safety.
Instead, airlines should implement autonomous tech to add an extra layer of safety to traditional two-pilot trips, he said.
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CreditsDaily Star and 2 others
Britten-Norman: The Log