New research from Revolution.Aero finds that 13% of people would be prepared to fly in an unmanned aircraft. One in five men (20%) said they would do this, compared to just 6% of women.

Almost a fifth (18%) of those aged 44 and under would be prepared to fly on an aircraft with no pilot, but this drops to 11% for those aged 55 – 64, and 8% for people who are 65 and over.

Revolution.Aero, which is running an event this week in San Francisco about the future of aviation, warns that with such a growing shortage of pilots, unmanned commercial aircraft will have to be accepted, otherwise airlines will increasingly be forced to cancel some less profitable routes. It also warns that smaller airlines could increasingly see an exodus of pilots as they are unable to compete with the salaries bigger competitors pay, which could force many of them to close routes or even stop trading all together.

A matter of time

Aviation rules state that passenger planes with a certain number of seats must have a minimum of two pilots in the cockpit. However, according to Revolution.Aero, advances in technology mean it’s only a matter of time before it becomes commercially viable and acceptable to have just one pilot, or none at all.

Alasdair Whyte, co-founder, Revolution Aero said: “The travel industry is enjoying very strong growth, spurred on by growing middle classes around the world and falling ticket prices. The world will need up to 200,000 new pilots in the next decade, and up to 790,000 over the next 20 years to meet this growing demand and replace those pilots who have reached the mandatory retirement age, which ranges from between 60 and 65 depending where you fly in the world.

“It will be a tall order to recruit this many pilots so the aviation industry and society need to give greater consideration to pilotless commercial aircraft or more flights that just have one pilot.”

Whyte added: “Every time an aircraft takes off it generates a huge amount of data, but only a fraction of this is used today. The aviation industry is starting to use artificial intelligence (AI)software to better interpret that data, which leads to better maintenance practices and more efficient use of equipment, all of which bring pilotless flights ever closer.”

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