Pilotless planes could be a $35 billion opportunity – but will people fly in them?

Pilotless planes could technically be in operation as soon as 2025 and represent a $35 billion opportunity in terms of savings and new revenue.

These are the findings of a new report from UBS – Flying solo – how far are we down the path towards pilotless planes?.

The technology could also make flying safer and more efficient, the report notes. However, only 17% of the 8,000 people interviewed would be willing to fly in one.


The report suggests that “meaningful savings” could be generated via flight optimisation, greater predictability, and reduced flight crew and training costs.

UBS analysts say that aerospace suppliers, OEMs and commercial airlines would retain some of the considerable benefit, including:

  • over $26 billion in pilot cost savings for the airlines; up to $3 billion in pilot savings for the business jet industry, and $2.1 billion for civil helicopters
  • flight optimisation savings could be over $1 billion
  • more than $3 billion per year in savings from lower insurance premiums (safer flights) and pilot training costs
  • a revenue opportunity from increased utilisation rates (cargo and commercial).

Cleared for take-off?

Regulation and perception are likely to be the biggest factors in whether pilotless planes actually take off, the report finds.

Over half (54%) of the 8,000 respondents said they would be unlikely to take a pilotless flight, and only 17% said they would take one. Younger respondents (aged 18-34) were found to be more willing to fly on a pilotless plane (30%), and “acceptance should grow with time,” UBS says.