Airbus looks to a future of unmanned aircraft | The independent


Airbus is looking to develop autonomous aircraft and technologies that will allow a single pilot to operate commercial airliners, thus helping to reduce costs for carriers, said Paul Eremenko, chief technology officer.

“The most disruptive approach is to say that maybe we can reduce the crew requirements of our future aircraft,” Eremenko told Bloomberg Television. “We are pursuing single-pilot operation as a potential option and many of the technologies required to achieve this have also set us on the path to unmanned operation. “

The aerospace industry has started to see a trend similar to that of the automotive market, where automakers are investing or acquiring self-driving startups. Aircraft manufacturers, including Airbus and Boeing, are fighting to develop artificial intelligence that will one day allow computers to fly planes without humans at the controls.

Turning this idea into practical reality won’t be easy in an industry where at least two pilots in the cockpit have been the norm for commercial flights for decades. After a Germanwings pilot flew an A320 plane in the French Alps in March 2015, killing all 150 people on board, many airlines around the world made it mandatory for at least two people to be in the cockpit to any time.

In addition to the lack of a transport-category aircraft certified for a single pilot or unmanned flight, it is not clear whether passengers or their insurers or carriers would accept or allow it, the consultant said. aviation Robert Mann, a former executive of American Airlines.

“People are probably worried about this stuff,” said Shukor Yusof, founder of aviation consulting firm Endau Analytics in Malaysia. “You have driverless cars, driverless buses, but for something that flies it’s something different.”

Airbus has a division called Urban Air Mobility which is exploring technology from on-demand helicopter tours to delivery drones. Boeing announced last month that it bought a company that develops flying taxis for Uber and also bought a hybrid electric aircraft company.

Last week, Airbus agreed to set up an innovation center in Shenzhen, China, near Hong Kong. The facility will help speed up the research needed to chart the future of air transport, and China will provide Airbus with the opportunity to design and develop such technologies, Eremenko said.

Take a leap

“I think the general aviation space in China has just opened up,” Eremenko said in Hong Kong. “There is an opportunity for China to take a leap forward as it has been inclined to do in other fields and to design the aerospace system, to design the regulatory regime to be forward-looking, forward-looking. the future to enable urban air mobility. “

The Toulouse-based company is also exploring technologies that will bring more automation to the cockpit of aircraft, which could help solve the pilot shortage in countries like China, which is expected to become the world’s largest aviation market in less time. of a decade. Discussions are underway with Chinese companies such as Baidu to find ways to apply autonomous vehicles to the aviation industry, Eremenko said.

Boeing estimates that 637,000 pilots will be needed to fly commercial aircraft around the world over the next two decades. The industry must find ways to produce more cockpit crews, as only 200,000 pilots have been trained since the aviation industry began, Eremenko said.

Airbus’ A3 Silicon Valley think tank has been working on its Vahana flying taxi project, which is expected to undergo its first test before the end of this year. The unmanned electric vehicle could be hailed like a conventional cabin, but won’t get stuck in traffic. The one-person flying machine could cut commuting times for city dwellers over a distance of 50 miles, according to Airbus.


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