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Old 03-18-2019, 03:15 PM   #29  
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Originally Posted by sgrd0q View Post
Interesting topic. What if the first step to autonomous flight is to transition to drones? In other words, what if you can have a reliable communication channel between the plane and the ground? Then you can still have two humans flying the plane from the ground just like they would if they were in the cockpit. The shift to fly-by-wire facilitates this as all you do it tell the commuter what you want to do rather than pulling actual cables, etc. So why do you have to communicate with the computer from the cockpit when you can be on the ground doing the same, again assuming a reliable communication channel? I know the technology is not there yet, and I am deliberately simplifying, e.g. you still need to design a way to pull a circuit breaker if you want to do that, etc.

So once you transition to unmanned aircraft flown from the ground, then the threat to the pilot profession will be there, because you can then assign a crew to do the departures and arrivals in the terminal environment and then let the automation fly the rest. Perhaps a computer can monitor thousands of aircraft in cruise, and if there is any alarm coming from any of them, then a ready crew on the ground is immediately assigned to it. You can then fly a lot of planes with a fraction of the pilots it takes today.

And the threshold for any alarm can be as high or as low as you like
- weather ahead, turbulence level, smell (maybe there are sensors to detect the smell of burning wire as well as a human can), etc. Maybe even the FA can press a button to raise an alarm if something doesn't feel right if that is what it takes to make the flying public more comfortable with the idea.

Once you transition to this, then the introduction of AI can be incremental. Maybe you can trust AI to deal with some alarms and not others. As the AI technology gets better and better you have more alarms being dealt with by a computer and therefore fewer humans will be required to keep the system operational.

So the first step is to replicate the cockpit on the ground and have reliable communication as if the pilot is in the aircraft. If you can do that, the rest will follow rather quickly.
You could do some of this.

But you won't. Because of the economics. Any discussion about replacing pilots with automation (or remote control) is fundamentally an economic one.

People used to look at the moon and dream of going there. Nobody looks up in the sky at a contrail and thinks "God we have to get those guys out of the cockpit".

Just to put the pilots on the ground would take a MASSIVE investment in equipment, which is almost certainly going to require integration with a clean-sheet design, ie it would not be economical to retrofit to existing airliners due to certification challenges. And for security and reliability purposes we are looking at satellite comm systems... likely dedicated and certainly redundant. Not just text message data rates either, but streaming high-res video data rates $$$$$$$$$$$$$,

Initially, there is no way you could certify this without at least one backup pilot on board. Regulatory and political caution would see to that. So you'd have to build a new plane, with extra (heavy and expensive) equipment PLUS a cockpit, and then pay not two but three guys to fly it for some indeterminate trial period.

Airlines are publicly traded commodity vendors... they CANNOT take the long view at the expense of short-term stock prices and dividends.

The air-framers aren't going to invest in something unless they know they have a market, and that their product can be certified.

The regulators have no incentive to push for something like which has... they don't get paid or rewarded to take risks, all downside, no upside.

And any airline who even dreams of going there has to worry after all that, the public might just prefer its' manned competitors. Really need the public to get accustomed to driver-less cars first.

Also... ground-based pilots makes the most sense for ultra-long haul. Assume you need the pilots' full attention from gate to TOC and from TOD to the gate. Short-haul flight would have a high ratio of "pilot required" time to drone time. Might as well just leave them in the cockpit. Long haul flights are a small percentage of all flights, and the larger planes have more pax to dilute the pilot costs anyway.
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