Every commercial flight, even those taken by private jets, involves certain aspects that are handled entirely by a computer. As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more sophisticated, it is virtually guaranteed that more and more pilot duties will be taken over by automated systems. In fact, as early as 2015, one pilot claimed that autopilot does approximately ninety percent of all flying. The pilot is essentially there to take off, land, and monitor the autopilot, stepping in only when needed. In the recent decades, aviation has seen a significant drop in fatal accidents, largely thanks to automation. In this blog, we will look at the future of automation in the aviation industry.
As mentioned, take off and landing are currently handled mostly by the pilots. Despite this, there have already been steps towards full automation for these critical processes. The most prevalent of these is Autoland, a system that fully automates the landing phase. To operate, Autoland combines radio altimeters and other components with the autopilot. These are then called upon when the aircraft needs to land in dense fog or other visibility-reducing conditions. Because pilots are always under pressure to carry the smallest amount of fuel possible, circling around the landing strip waiting for visibility is usually not an option. Similar to the way autopilot grew more sophisticated overtime, automated landing systems will do the same.
The autopilots in small aircraft range from basic to highly complex. More advanced private jets will come equipped with altitude selectors, GPS integration, and many other features that were traditionally restricted to larger commercial airliners. Due to the inevitable resistance of passengers to board an aircraft with no pilot, the first fully-automated flights will likely be carried out by smaller operators before being done by any large commercial airlines. Regardless of aircraft size, failures are extremely rare, especially when you consider the amount of daily global air traffic. Autopilot already does a better job of keeping an aircraft on proper track than a human operator, and it will only continue to improve as computing power increases and further testing is done.
Automation becomes increasingly common in the aviation industry every day, decreasing the likelihood of human error causing serious problems. However, will the industry ever be able to get rid of the human pilot entirely? The biggest obstacle to automation is undoubtedly public skepticism. Until people can feel safe boarding and taking flight in an aircraft without a human pilot, automation will not entirely dispense with the need for the human pilot.
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