07 August, 2017

Take away pilots and save $35 billion a year says UBS

The Swiss bank UBS has hit on a novel idea for airlines to save money, as much as $35billion a year - by taking away the pilots!

Yes, according to research released today UBS thinks pilotless planes are the way forward, "Reducing the intervention of human pilots on aircraft could bring material economic benefits and improve safety," UBS analysts wrote in a report published Monday. 

In basic terms of material economic benefits, number-crunching analysts at UBS advise that there could be a material profit opportunity of more than $35 billion per year for the aerospace and aviation industry. To unlock these massive savings the Swiss bankers suggest the aviation sector would need to explore a number of elements, for example, how airlines could benefit from lower operating and training costs, reduced fuel costs and lower insurance premium costs. Overall, they believe ditching the pilots could save $26 billion a year. 

"The opportunity, we believe, would be dependent on the timing of the roll-out of pilotless planes and we think it is likely we would initially see cargo the first subsector to adopt new related technologies, with the number of pilots falling from two to one and eventually from one to none," UBS said.

To further enhance their report, the analysts state, "commercial jets already take off and land using their on-board computers, and several other in-flight functions are performed or confirmed by computers."

At first this might seem all a little far fetched and something more akin to science fiction stories that actual fact. However, Boeing announced in June they were investigating the concept of pilotless technology, and last week according to Reuters news agency, the plane maker said it was going to set up an avionics group, in order to create aircraft controls and electronics for pilotless technology. 

It's not just planes that may become pilotless,  people in the control tower guiding aircraft to land safely may also be a thing of the past.  London City Airport has, for quite some time done away with visual ATC staff in the tower, with arrivals and departures now being controlled remotely by NATS staff at their Swanwick control centre some 80 miles away from the city runway.  

The biggest obstacle that pilotless planes would have to overcome is not one of technology, that already exists, think the pilotless military drones that are in the skies on an almost daily basis in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. No the biggest hurdle needed to jump for these ambitious plans to be achieved would be one of the human mind, would passengers want to fly in an aircraft knowing there is no-one actually up front?   

According to UBS, only 17 percent said they would likely welcome the opportunity to fly pilotless, whereas 54 percent said they would be reluctant to take a flight with no captain on-board to press the buttons, pull the switches and wiggle the yoke. 

These numbers come from a recent UBS Evidence Lab Survey of 8,000 people, which also indicated that younger people were more likely to welcome the new technology with 30 percent of 18 to 34 year-olds willing to try out the experience. UBS thinks that is important for the industry as "acceptance should grow with time."

Would you be willing to be a passenger on a flight to a sunny Spanish costa or a metropolitan city stateside, knowing that your pilot is actually sitting in a shed somewhere north of Stains?  Are pilotless planes a real possibility for the future or something best left to the TV Sci-Fi world?