Date
12 December 2017
Qatar Airways pilots inside the cockpit of an Airbus A350 XWB aircraft. Planemakers are exploring new technologies to meet the growing need for pilots. Photo: Bloomberg
Qatar Airways pilots inside the cockpit of an Airbus A350 XWB aircraft. Planemakers are exploring new technologies to meet the growing need for pilots. Photo: Bloomberg

Airbus exploring autonomous aircraft amid tech race

European planemaker Airbus SE is looking to develop autonomous aircraft and technologies that will allow a single pilot to operate commercial jetliners, helping cut costs for carriers, the company’s chief technology officer Paul Eremenko says.

“The more disruptive approach is to say maybe we can reduce the crew needs for our future aircraft,” Eremenko told Bloomberg Television in an interview on Wednesday. “We’re pursuing single-pilot operation as a potential option and a lot of the technologies needed to make that happen have also put us on the path towards unpiloted operation.”

Discussions are going on with Chinese companies such as Baidu Inc. to find ways to apply self-driving car technology to the aviation industry, he said in Hong Kong.

As Bloomberg reports, Airbus agreed to set up an innovation center in the China’s southern city of Shenzhen last week. The facility will help accelerate research on the future of air travel.

“I think the general aviation space in China is just opening up,” Eremenko said. “There’s an opportunity for China to sort of take a leap ahead as it has been prone to do in other areas and design the aerospace system, design the regulatory regime to be future-looking, forward-looking to enable urban air mobility.”

The aerospace industry has begun seeing a pilotless future amid a shortage of pilots. US aircraft maker Boeing Co. estimates that 637,000 pilots will be needed to fly commercial aircraft globally in the next two decades.

Eremenko suggested the industry needs to find ways to produce more cockpit crew as only 200,000 pilots have been trained since the start of the aviation industry.

Airbus has a division called Urban Air Mobility that is exploring technologies from on-demand helicopter rides to delivery drones.

The A3 Silicon Valley think tank, also under Airbus, has been working on its proposed Vahana flying taxi, due for its first test before the end of this year.

The pilotless, electric-powered vehicle could be hailed like a conventional cab, but won’t get stuck in traffic jams. The single-person flying machine could slash journey times for city dwellers over a range of 50 miles, according to Airbus.

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BN/CG

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