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Pilotless Planes Are Coming. Would You Fly in One?

Only 17 percent of people say they'd board an automated aircraft.


Within the next 20 years, you could be traveling for business or a vacation via a pilotless airplane. Scary, right? Well, you’re not the only one who thinks so. In fact, most people say they wouldn’t feel comfortable getting on an automated airplane.

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In a recent survey, financial services firm UBS asked 8,000 people how they would feel about pilotless flights. Only 17 percent said they would board plane flown by AI. More people ages 25 to 35 were willing to hop on board an automated aircraft. Those older than 45 were much more resistant to the idea. Overall, 54 percent said they were unlikely to take a pilotless flight.

It’s no surprise that one of people’s biggest fears of pilotless flights is safety. However, the report found that 70 to 80 percent of plane accidents are caused by human error, so pilotless flights could actually make air travel more secure. That doesn’t mean pilots are out of the picture altogether though, but it would only reduce the number of crew members needed in the cockpit.

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"Automation in the cockpit is not a new thing -- it already supports operations. However, every single day pilots have to intervene when the automatics don't do what they're supposed to. Computers can fail, and often do, and someone is still going to be needed to work that computer,” Steve Landells, the British Airline Pilots Association's flight safety specialist, told BBC.

Pilotless planes would also save airlines billions of dollars every year by reducing costs related to fuel and pilot training. Ultimately, these reduced costs might result in reduced fares for passengers too. Overall, “the average percentage of total cost and average benefit that could be passed onto passengers in price reduction for the U.S. airlines is 11 percent,” the study says. So would a cheaper plane ticket convince you to step on board a pilotless airplane?

Boeing plans to begin testing automated aircrafts as soon as 2018. Analysts of the study predict the transition to pilotless planes will begin occurring over the next few years, starting with cargo planes. Commercial flights are predicted to be the last to go pilotless.

Related: 5 Ways to De-Stress Your Business Travel

"Clearly a seven-hour flight carrying 200 to 300 people would be the last part of the evolution," UBS’s head of business services Jarrod Castle told BBC, "but we also feel that machines can gradually take over and then reduce the number of pilots in the cockpit from two to one over time."

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