The first pilotless plane – Would you book a seat?
One of the things I enjoy about my role at Airways is the opportunity to imagine air traffic control in 20 years – what it might look like, what technology will be in use and how people might be involved.
With the current speed of technological change, it’s a real stretch of the imagination to look out even 10 let alone 20 years and a test of our creativity and ability to think outside the square. We do however need to take up the challenge as standing still simply isn’t an option in any business.
Pilotless planes are one of the many exciting developments that have been talked about with RPAS and UAV operations demonstrating this could become a reality. There are many questions that the industry will have to resolve first such as, how they will be safely integrated with other aircraft and would passengers book on a pilotless flight?
What about driverless cars? A British based auto firm, Delphi recently trialled a driverless car driving it across America, some 3,400 miles, and 99% of the journey was completed under automation. Interestingly the head of Google X noted the trial hadn’t been successful and one of the reasons was there were too many accidents. The irony - the accidents were caused by people intervening when they thought something was going wrong. The solution – remove the steering wheel.
While taking people out of the driving seat and relying on technology to do the job can sometimes see a dramatic reduction in accidents as in the case of the driverless car, do we really know enough and has there been sufficient research and development to guarantee the safety of passengers?
In our business, virtual towers are another example of our rapidly changing world. The operational and technical solutions are here and we just need time for these to mature and for more supplier competition for the creation of a sustainable business case. It’s not an ‘if’ but ‘when’, scenario.
Imagining what our industry might look like in 20 years means engaging Airways’ people in the debate and establishing a clear vision for the future. In the end, while technology may be a force for change, people – our people will be part of the decision making process around the shaping the future of air traffic control.
Airways’ business is ensuring safe and efficient skies across the 30 million square kilometres of our airspace. As Head of Safety and Operations, I’m passionate about ensuring the safety of our people and those who fly in our airspace. The future is ours to shape – let’s start now.
Lew Jenkins: Head of Safety and Operations, Safety and Risk