Did Airbus just put the airline industry on notice? The manufacturer just released some game-changing images of its aircraft completing successful automatic takeoffs at a test runway in France in December. Airbus fitted one of its A350-1000 planes with image-recognition technology to pull off the feat. This technology is different from the Instrument Landing System (ILS) that is currently used by airlines around the world.
Should pilots be sweating? The airline industry is a long way off from replacing pilots with automated technology. The pilot-free technology that Airbus tested in December is really meant to act as a supplement to the expertise of pilots. In fact, Airbus had two pilots waiting to take over from inside the aircraft during its December tests.
Airbus is claiming that its pilot-free testing is solely focused on increasing safety at the moment. Of course, that doesn't rule out the possibility that the industry will move toward unpiloted planes. Factors like pilot shortages and strikes give airlines every reason to try to move toward automated aircraft. Even reducing the number of pilots operating every flight from two down to one would save airlines billions each year.
The big hurdle to get over is that it will be a long time before airline passengers feel comfortable flying without a human sitting in the pilot's seat. The big controversy happening with the Boeing 737 MAX right now isn't helping the matter. Many questions are still being raised regarding the role that automated software may have played in two fatal crashes involving the 737 MAX.