Scott Spangler has recently written an interesting post on Jetwhine entitled “UND Plants Seed of No-Pilot Airliners.” Apparently, the University of North Dakota (UND) is now offering a bachelor’s of science degree in aeronautics with a major in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations (in other words, UAVs) and Scott quoted Mike Nelson, the former fighter pilot who teaches the course, as saying: “The last fighter pilot’s already been born. The last fighter is being built.” Scott further stated in his post that he’d “hazard a guess that the same is true for airline pilots. (And can corporate pilots be far behind?)”
On the other hand, Norman, a pilot who currently flies a Boeing 777 for a major UK carrier and who also writes for the Digital Aviator blog, strongly disagreed with Scott’s notion that pilots may be an endangered species. In a recent post written in response to Scott, Norman wrote:
One inhibitor is ever increasing traffic densities robbing the system of flex and airspace, another sovereignty based issues. Another still and by far the major hurdle is the huge investment that would be required in ground support infrastructure. We can’t yet fund and set up something as simple as a satellite based ATC communications system to manage the Atlantic or Africa, what makes us think we will be able to put in place the agreements and kit required to intermix and manage automated airliners internationally? It may happen, but not for a very long time yet – I would stake my job and even my rocking chair on it!
Norman also pointed out that the public is probably not ready for pilotless airliners.
Hence, what do you think? Are pilotless aircraft outside of the military really in the near or even the more distant future? If so, who (besides fighter pilots) might be replaced i.e. airline pilots, corporate pilots, other types of pilots etc.? We would love to hear what you think.