October 12th, 2017
â€œWhat the industry is telling me is that they would like to remove one of the pilots fairly soon, and re-design the cockpit around a single pilot,â€� says Stephen Rice, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. That would involve at least a modest cockpit redesign, so that a single pilot is able to operate all of the controls. â€œThere might also be a remote-control pilot on the ground, in case of emergencies, like a heart attack,â€� he adds. â€œThis remote pilot could monitor many airplanes [at once].â€� But eventually â€œthey would like to remove the last pilot.â€�
This wouldnâ€™t be the first time the aviation industry has cut back on crews. In the 1950s, it took five people to fly an airliner â€” two pilots, a flight engineer, a radio operator, and a navigator. By the 1960s, the radio operator and navigator were gone. In the 1990s, flight engineers disappeared. Given this trend, fully automated aviation may seem inevitable.
One motive for the trend, not surprisingly, is financial. A report released last August suggests that by transitioning to self-flying aircraft the aviation industry could save $35 billion a year.
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